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What to do in the face of disaster

In light of 9/11, I thought I'd post this talk on Luke 12v54 - 13v9 about how we should respond in the face of disaster.

What do you make of what’s going on in the world these days? Maybe you think things are bad. There is the threat of terrorism, crime is on the increase, there’s no job security and can’t be sure that when we retire we will have a state pension. Perhaps though you’re not so pessimistic. You know there are problems, but see that we have warm houses, healthcare, access to food, freedom and prosperity.

Whether things are good or bad though depend on your point of view, the way you interpret the times. We have to interpret the times quite often don’t we to make good decisions in our life. For example, we try and work out which part of town is best to live in, what clothes would be appropriate to wear to work tomorrow or what company we should buy shares in to maximise our profit,

How is it we answer these kind of questions? Well, we look at the world around us, we understand the times we live in and try and figure out what the right decision to make is. If we read in the paper that there has been a mugging outside that house for sale, we might interpret that currently that part of town is a bad place to live. If we looked at the weather forecast and found out it was going to rain tomorrow might interpret we should put on a raincoat when we went to work tomorrow. And if our stockbroker tells us about the big returns we’ll get from a banana farm in the Highlands of Scotland, than we might interpret that it would be a bad idea to pour in our cash.

We see things and make decisions based on the way we interpret what we see. Sometimes our interpretations will be right, and sometimes they’ll be wrong. For instance, from what you know about Scotland, you could think that growing bananas outside was stupid and choose not to invest your money. But maybe you could think that because of global warming, and how in the future Scotland would be a perfect place to grow bananas, and that buying while the shares were cheap was the right thing to sink your savings into. Rightly interpreting what the time is like is really important so we can make good decisions, because we have to live with the consequences of that decision forever.

And this is what comes through clearly in Luke 12v54-13v9. In this passage Luke asks big questions of us. Have we correctly interpreted the times? Have we made a good decision?
Have we understood the consequences of our decision? And answering these questions rightly is important, because as Luke is going to show us:

We need to correctly interpret the time and repent, else we’ll perish. We need to correctly interpret the time and repent, else we’ll perish. It’s only when we see this that we’ll be able to see what the right answers to those questions are.

Luke begins to do this in vv54-59 by revealing that the present time is an important time. The present time is an important time.

When I studied geography at university, I fancied myself as a bit of a weatherman because I learned a little about interpreting the weather. But being clever with the weather is not difficult; it’s just a matter of learning to read the signs.

And as we read vv54-55 we see the crowd had this down to a fine art. They could tell what the weather would be like tomorrow based on what happened today. But for all their skill with the weather, can you see what Jesus said they couldn’t do in v56? Though they could read the signs and work out the weather, they either couldn’t or wouldn’t see what should have been obvious. They were hypocrites because they couldn’t interpret the present time. You see their present time had been very special, because it had been full of signs pointing to something amazing.

If you’ve been here while we’ve been going through Luke, you’ll have an idea of what those signs were. The crowd had heard Jesus teach and make amazing claims about having authority to forgive sins and about being the Son of Man, the supreme judge of everyone.

They’d seen Him do amazing miracles like feeding 5000 from 5 loaves and 2 fish and healing a paralysed man with a word; he’d also driven out demons and brought the dead back to life. They’d heard Him claim to have the power of God, and do things that showed He had the power of God; that in fact He was God’s king who would save his people from their sins and judge the earth.

If you look at v49 you’ll see that Luke has just reminded us his readers of that. READ v49
Jesus would bring the fire of judgement, but first would go through the baptism of death on the cross, and provide a way for people to escape that fire.

But for all the crowd had seen and heard, and for all their skill in seeing signs and interpreting the weather, the were blind to who Jesus was and what He was doing. They’d failed to see that the present time was an important time, because in their midst was an important person.

Imagine if you knew the queen was coming to St. Neots tomorrow, and you went into town on the day. All around there were police, barricades, flags and crowds. And then you saw a woman walking down the street wearing a crown, walking her corgis and doing that little wave thing.
It would be daft to think despite all the signs, ‘I wonder what’s going on here’. But that’s just what the crowd did with Jesus. But we do it too don’t we?

You see, we might think that when it comes to interpreting the times we’re pretty good. Tomorrow morning, when we get up we’ll find out what the weather forecast for the day is; we’ll open the curtains and see what it looks like outside, and in light of what we interpret from that, we’ll pick out clothes. And we generally make the right choice because we’ve interpreted the signs correctly.

But if for all our skill in that if we can’t see who Jesus is and what He’s come to do from all the signs we see in the bible, than Luke says we’re just hypocrites; people who think we’re good at understanding the times, but actually are no good at all.

Now maybe we don’t see Jesus is because we’ve never really looked at Him. Well why not spend some time doing that? Why not take away a gospel and read it, or maybe sign up for our Christianity explored course and look at all the bible says about Jesus. But if we have looked at the evidence and our interpretation is that Jesus was a great religious teacher, a force for moral good, or even an amazing miracle worker than we’ve got it very wrong.

If we don’t see Him as God’s king, the one who had come to save his people from their sins and judge the world, then we’ve failed to correctly interpret the times. The present time is an important time because Jesus is revealed as God’s king. But the fact of who Jesus was made the times even more important. Because He was the one who had come to save his people from their sins meant that this was the time people could be saved.

And even the crowd had to see salvation was a good thing. So Jesus told them a story to get them to see the situation they were in and told them to judge what they thought was the best thing to do by comparing them to a man who was in debt and had to decide what to do.

See what you think the right option is as we read Jesus’ words in vv58-59 The answer is obvious isn’t it? It’s better to settle out of court and get on with life than go to jail until the debt is paid in full. But Jesus wants the crowd to see that this applies to them too. They have a debt to pay to God for all their sins, but now in this present time they can settle that debt out of court.

Because Jesus has come to save his people from their sins, they can be reconciled to God. They need to interpret that the present time is the time they can be saved from their sins, because Jesus is the saviour. It’s a bit like being in a restaurant. You spend time looking at the menu and deciding what you want. But you can’t order the food until the waiter gets there.
But when he comes to the table, because of who he is, you have the opportunity to order and then eat. Who He is means that eating can happen.

And similarly, who Jesus is means that salvation can happen. And it’s the same today as it is then. We have the offer of having the debt of our sin cancelled and being reconciled to God because today still is the day of salvation. But the day of salvation won’t last forever. Jesus will return to judge the world with fire. On that day He will call in the debts of those who haven’t settled out of court with God, and they will have to face His punishment for their sins themselves, which is a terrible prospect.

How do we know if we’re good at interpreting the times? Well, if we’ve interpreted the items correctly, we’ll realise that we need to reconciled to God in Jesus, and we need to do that today.
Even if we have realised that though, we still need to work hard at understanding the present time.

As Christians we can think we know all about the present times. But though we might know a lot with our heads often we know less in our hearts. We know people need to know about Jesus, but what do the times we decide not to share the gospel with people show us about how much we understand the seriousness of judgment? Or how about those times when we knowingly sin and please ourselves instead of Jesus? Don’t they show us how little we understand about what it means to be saved by Jesus and call Him our King?

We can be theologically sound in our heads, but we can so easily be carried along by the media and those around us that in our hearts we can become practical atheists. I know that because sometimes I feel that way myself. Maybe you’ve felt like as well? If we do, it’s crucial that we go back to the bible and ask God to help us understand more of how things really are. When we work hard at reading the bible, it’s like putting on a pair of glasses that bring everything into focus and help us see clearly. For it’s His spirit working through His word that gets our hearts back on track and help us really understand the fact that the present times are important times.

But, secondly, in light of these present times Luke shows us that in 13vv1-9 that:
We should repent or perish. We should repent or perish.

Two recent tragedies had grabbed the headlines in Israel and had become a talking point.
Some Galileans had been murdered by Pilate while they were worshipping God. There had also been an accident, when a tower fell on 18 people killing them. Now the idea of the day was that bad things happened to bad people. And the crowd wanted to know if that’s what they should learn from these events.

But see what Jesus thought of this answer in vv1-5 Jesus said that the crowd had got it wrong.
These people didn’t die tragically because they were worse sinners than everyone else in Galilee or Jerusalem They were all just as guilty as the rest in Galilee and the rest in Jerusalem. You can imagine how this would have stunned the crowd. But Jesus didn’t stop there. Do you see the repeated phrase in v3 and v5? “But unless you repent you too will all perish” Jesus didn’t get involved in a discussion about why tragedies take place. Rather He put the spotlight back on them.

He tells them that they shouldn’t be looking at the people who’d died thinking they were better than them, but rather that they were just as bad. Jesus told them that these tragedies shouldn’t be a talking point, but a wake up call to repent, to turn away from the life they’ve been living and turn back to God. But why is it that Luke includes this story here? What is it He wants us to see?

Well, he tells us that if we’ve interpreted the times rightly and have seen that now is the time we can get right with God, the way we do that is by repenting. But Luke also wants us to see that the consequence of not repenting is that they will perish. What is perishing? Well in John 3v16 and 10v28 it’s the opposite of eternal life and in 2 Peter 3v9 it’s the opposite of not being saved. And Jesus shows us that unless we repent, it’s the future that we all face.

I’m sure last July some of you who go to London saw the huge number of flowers laid outside Kings Cross station, and the ‘missing’ posters stapled to the hoardings and lampposts about the area. 7/7 was a tragedy. Things like 7/7 are a wake up call to us, because they remind us of the frailty of life, and the fact that one day whoever we are we will die. They confront us with death and say ‘are you ready?’ But more importantly, disasters also remind us that we too need to repent, because we don’t want to perish. And that is the worst thing that could happen to anyone.

But if we haven’t repented here today, that’s where we are headed. Repenting isn’t just about becoming a member of a club. It’s not ‘take it or leave it;’ it’s a matter of eternal life and eternal death. As much as we might interpret the weather correctly as we work out what to wear tomorrow, if we get dressed tomorrow without having turned away from our sins and back to God, than we show that our take on the world is way off.

Repenting is the thing that shows that we’ve really understood the true situation in the world because it means that we’ve understood that we can have life, and don’t have to perish.
And that’s great news. The question is, what will you do with it? Maybe it means that you’re going to have to repent. Maybe though it means that we have tell others that they need to repent.

Though our family and friends, neighbours and colleagues look fine, they’re actually in danger from perishing, and they need someone to tell them about that danger. And that someone might well be us. Why not decide this week to do something about it? Maybe we can think a person that we’ll see this week who we can pray for and try and have a conversation with about what the world’s really like.

And when we worry about them not liking us, of we get those butterflies in our stomachs, let’s remember how important what we’re doing is. And if like me you would find that a scary prospect, than why not ask someone to pray for you, or practise what you might say with them.
But let’s not forget that people need to hear so that they can repent and not perish.
And God will not let them rebel forever.

Luke wants us to see that there is only a limited time to repent. Have a look at vv6-9. The fig tree in the story was a picture of the nation of Israel who had turned away from God, but was being given one last chance to see if fruit would come. Fruit is something Luke used in 3v8 to describe what flows from people who repented. But Jesus made it clear, that if nothing changed in a short time, and the nation didn’t repent and turn back to God than they would be rejected by God and cut down.

God in his mercy was giving his people one last chance to turn back to him, but there was a time limit on that. And as we read the rest of the NT we see that as a nation, Israel didn’t change their ways. They rejected the gospel, God rejected them as His people and eventually in AD 70 the nation was destroyed by the Romans. But Israel had the chance to repent, because God is a merciful God. And because God’s merciful He deals with us today in the same way He dealt with Israel then. Though all we deserve for turning away from Him is to be cut down, He gives us time to change our minds and repent; but that time will run out one day.

It’s a bit like buying CD’s. Normally, if you bought a CD and didn’t like it, you’d be stuck with it. But if you were to buy your CD’s from Time Life, because they care about us so much, we have 30 days to try the CD’s, and if we don’t like them we just send them back. But on the 31st day, we’re keeping them for good.

Do you see how good God is that in his mercy you’re here tonight? Think back to the number of days you’ve woken up in your life without having repented. Isn’t God a merciful God? He offers us so much time to change our mind and; but we can’t take His mercy for granted. Like Israel, we won’t get away with it forever, and we don’t know how long there is left. We might not even have 30 days before Jesus returns or we die. Why not find out more of how merciful God is tonight and repent, come and talk to Mike or myself at the end, or sign up for Christianity Explored. But please don’t ignore His mercy.

But those of us who have repented also need to keep responding to God’s mercy. How can we do that? Well, when we wake up tomorrow, shouldn’t we thank God that in spite of all we did yesterday He doesn’t cut us down and that today we can still enjoy His mercy? And shouldn’t we thank Him that though the world deserves to be cut down, God has given us one more day to share the gospel, and one more day where people can repent, so that they won’t perish.

We all have a lot to be thankful for because God is merciful, especially in telling us that we must repent or perish. What should we make of what’s going on in the world these days? Well, above everything else, we need to see that we need to correctly interpret the time and repent, else we’ll perish.


  1. I'm not convinced that this is the best response to 9/11. Jesus had some other ways of dealing with suffering and trajedy too.

    Do you honestly feel that this is the only response available to you?

    I think I find it a little hard-nosed. Don't you?


  2. I think that with those directly affected by tragedy we weep with those who weepand I don't think if I'd have been in New York on 9/11 I'd have been giving out tracts to the people who were coming out of the building, but rather putting my arms on their shoulders and listening to them and asking God to help them.

    But it's interesting in these verses that Jesus isn't talking to people directly affected (as far as we know) by the tragedies.

    And I think Jesus' response is pretty stark, and it's not what some people might think He should say?

    He doesn't get involved in a discussion, he tells them what is really important, the fact that they need to repent. I think it's the inescable thing from the passage.

    I think the other thing re your suggestions that it is hard nosed response is that it all depends on how you say things like this.

    I imagine that Jesus didn't say this with an angry tone like the classic sandwich board preacher. And I think if you did preach a sermon on this passage like that you'd be off beat.

    As I did this, there were people who I knew were sitting in front of me who are, as far as I know at the moment going to hell. And I don't want them to at all. There is no greater disaster than that. And I wanted to get across that point.

    I'm not claiming that it's a perfect talk though, far from it, and I want to do it better next time, so I'd appreciate hearing your ideas Tom, or anyone else, and then I'll knick them!

  3. I'd agree with you on this. To those in the midst of tragedy weeping with them is all we do.

    When I look at how our church responded to the tragic murder of two teenagers on Sept 11th last year, it was firstly by offering a place for prayer. Preaching was held back til the next Sunday where we rearranged our programme in Genesis to see both the darkness of the human heart, and God's mercy.

    And preaching a passage like this should be done tearfully. Its obvious conversationally when you're looking someone in the eye... too easy to forget that when talking to a crowd. I know I've failed in this many times.

    Hard words with compassion and heart seemed to be Jesus' response - at least to the observers of suffering... like those addressed in this incident, people who were trying to analyse others suffering - which is what the talking heads on our tv's have spent the last five years doing.


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