Thinking Biblically about Tragedy (Luke 13:1-9)

The subject matter of today’s sermon is difficult because most (if not all) of us have either experienced tragedy or know someone who has.  For those in the midst of tragedy, you know that there are no easy answers.  As a pastor, my prayer is that you will find comfort in the midst of life’s storms in the pages of Holy Scripture.  We shall study Luke 13:1-9 and discuss that while tragedies are the result of evil “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28 NASB).

Tragedies are the result of Evil

When thinking Biblically about tragedy, it is important to remember that tragedies are the result of sin.  When Adam rebelled against God in the garden, sin entered the world.  As a result, death and evil became very real and present dangers for all people.  It is important to remember that evil was not originally part of God’s “good” creation and it will not be in God’s restored creation.  When we consider evil: it is helpful to distinguish between two main types: Moral Evil and Natural Evil.

Moral evil is evil a person commits against someone or when a person refuses to act in a way to help someone in danger.  This evil is brought about by human choices and actions.  In verse 1 we encounter moral evil in the form of “Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.”  Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea (Luke 3:1) had brutally murdered Galileans who were making sacrifices in Jerusalem.

Natural evil is evil that is not the result of human action or inaction.  It is called natural because it includes such things as earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes.  In verse 4 we hear about an instance of natural evil as Jesus speaks of “those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them.”  There is no indication of malicious human activity behind the tower’s fall, it just fell.

Jesus’ Reply

How does Jesus reply to these two tragic events?  Interestingly enough, He gives the same answer in reply to both moral and natural evil.  He says, “Do you think that [these Galileans/they] were worse [offenders/sinners] than all the [other Galileans/others who lived in Jerusalem]?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (2-5).

Jesus’ answer (repent) shows us that our focus in this life should always be on God and not on our circumstances because we do not have complete control over our own lives.  If we focus on this life and our comfort in it, then we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and despair because we cannot avoid tragedies.  Jesus dismisses the notion that those who suffer in tragedy are worse sinners than those who do not, by focusing His hearers on the need to avoid the greatest suffering imaginable in hell.

Parable of the Barren Fig Tree (6-9)

Jesus continues His response with a parable about a barren fig tree (6-9) in order to remind us of two main points: we are not as secure as we think and God is gracious and patient. 

We are not as secure as we think

In the parable there is a fig tree that is not bearing figs.  The owner of the tree and the one responsible for the care of the tree (vinedresser) discuss the lack of figs.  What is interesting is that while the tree was responsible for its lack of fruit, the power over the life of the tree resided not in the tree but in its owner.  Therefore the owner can “cut it down” anytime he pleases.

Most of us live in a false sense of security and assume many things.  We assume we will live to see the sunset, we assume we will wake up in the morning, and we assume we will arrive at our destination safely.  Tragically, that is not always true because tragedies can strike at any moment and our Owner (God) can end our life on this earth anytime He wishes.  The first point of this parable is to help us realize that we are not as secure in this life as we often think, so therefore we should repent and live to bear fruit for our Owner rather than make ourselves comfortable.

God is gracious and patient

In the parable, the owner had authority over the life of the fig tree and we see that He had gracious patience with the unfruitful tree.  Patience was extended in giving it one more year.  Grace was extended in the vinedresser saying to wait “until I dig around it and put on manure”.  God is very patient with us and our very life is proof.  God is very gracious with us because, for the Christian, He works everything in this life for our good.

Many of us live in a false sense of security because we place our security in the things of this world: money, house, job, stocks, etc.  God graciously and patiently awakens us to abandon this false belief in two ways: 1) By providing us good things and 2) Working good even in the midst of tragedy. God provides us good things in that we often live to see the sunset, we wake up in the morning and we arrive at our destination safely.  These blessings should never bolster a false sense of security, but should encourage repentance and greater faith, hope and love.  It is “God’s kindness [that] is meant to lead you to repentance” (Rom 2:4).

God works good even in tragedy.  You may wonder: If God is gracious and patient and in control, why does He allow tragedies to happen?  There is a very good reason and I pray we all understand it.  God knows that the more comfortable and secure we become in this world the more ineffective and unfruitful we become in our service for Christ (2 Peter 1:5-9).  This is why God is less concerned with our comfort and more concerned about our character.  The question for us is this: shall I trust God even if tragedy comes?