Luke 13:1-5 (ESV):
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? 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.”
In a sermon to Campus Crusade students at the TCX conference in Minneapolis back in 2003, John Piper preached on this passage. You can find that message here and I would recommend you listening to it. It’s riveting and convicting. Some of what I will say has been adapted from Piper, yet much of it is simply personal reflection over the past four days or so.
On Wednesday, December 5, Robert Hawkins walked into the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska, and shot and killed eight people, wounded five others, and then turned his AK-47 assault rifle on himself. It was the second deadliest mass shooting in Nebraska history. The scene was literally unbelievable as Nebraskans, and Americans, watched the aftermath unfold.
Personally, I was horrified. I grew up in Omaha and I’ve been to that mall probably hundreds of times. I have been right by the stores where those nine people were murdered. My parents’ neighbor and I talked on Friday night. His wife and two children were at the mall the day before. That’s extremely sobering. And for me, there was only one thought that reverberated through my mind all day and week.
Lord, why them and not me?
You see, the Bible makes it clear that I’m a sinner. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). What happens because of this fact? Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death.”
I deserve to die. There is nothing in my human nature that deserves to live. That is where my mind was last Wednesday. It could have been me. It should have been me. As John Piper said in the sermon, “Don’t be astonished the tower fell on those Galileans. Be astonished YOU weren’t under the tower!” How humbling is that? How much perspective we lack! Rarely, if ever, is this our first thought in a time of crisis.
Now, what would Jesus say about the shooting? I think Luke 13 speaks for itself. Jesus seems to make it pretty clear. For those eight people, and thousands of others who die everyday, it’s not that “it was their time to go.” Jesus says, “Everyone deserves to go. They deserved to die and so do YOU.”
Don’t hate me for saying this, because God said it first: There are no “innocent” people. There were not eight innocent people shot at the Westroads last week. We are all guilty (see Romans 3 for more on this). This may sound harsh, but if we die at one month, one year, or 100 years, God has done us no wrong. He is perfectly justified at taking us whenever he pleases. As Job said in Job 1:21, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” And again in Job 2:10, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” What happened was according to God’s glorious will. Is it hard to take? Most definitely. Is it difficult to understand? It is a mystery. But the Bible says God has accomplishes his purpose, so must I trust and praise him through a situation like this? Yes.
What did Jesus say to the people who did not die in the tower catastrophe or by Pilate’s hand? “Repent or you will all likewise perish.” The events at the Westroads have brought me to my knees, more frequently and fervently than usual. It could have been me there. It could have been you. It puts life in perspective and makes you repent of the wickedness that lives in us. When Jesus says, “You will perish” he doesn’t mean physically. Everyone dies physically! If there is no repentance of sin, people die spiritually and are separated from God. Jesus is relating spiritual death to physical death here. “Repent, or you won’t see the Kingdom” is essentially what he means. This should offer hope to us; it should not make us afraid of going to Jesus. Repent! Be broken! Be contrite and reverent before God! This brings life and joy and peace and eternal satisfaction. Events like the shooting at the Westroads should put us on our faces, because God had mercy on us for one more day to confess our need for him and fall more in love with him. If that is not encouraging, I don’t know what is.
Martin Luther said, “Pray hard, for you are quite a sinner.” May that be what God moves our hearts toward when we consider events like this. We cannot control anything, so let us give everything to the King of kings and Lord of lords. And also, may we heed the words of the Lord Jesus when he said:
Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.