Devastating hurricanes and floods across the United States. Severe flooding in India affecting forty million people. The strongest earthquake in a century in Mexico. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children fleeing Myanmar. North Korea threatening to use nuclear weapons. Not to mention the personal struggles and afflictions we face on a day-to-day basis. In a world like this, how should followers of Christ respond? Based on Luke 13:1–5, David Platt helps us see a turbulent world through the lens of God’s Word.
Open your Bible to Luke 13, just a couple books before Acts which we’ve been studying for a long time. It’s good to be together around God’s Word, literally across the Beltway. I need to tell you that this has been a challenging week of sermon preparation, as I have sought the Lord about what He wants to say to us in His Word.
No matter how much I studied, I just couldn’t get peace about a particular text. Usually it’s much simpler. When we’re in a series, I just preach the next text in the book of the Bible we’re studying. But with our study in the book of Acts ending, the next step was wide open. Obviously there wasn’t a shortage of material in these 66 books, but as I spent a long time in prayer and in the Word, the only way I can describe it is that I had a lack of peace about any particular direction—all the way up to Friday night.
I just finished reading the two-volume autobiography of Charles Spurgeon, one of my favorite pastors in history. He would preach on Sunday morning, but he never started his sermon preparation until Saturday night. So I was spending Friday night in Spurgeon’s shoes.
As a sidenote, one quick story. One Saturday night he was doing his study, but even late into the night he just couldn’t land anywhere. He couldn’t get peace about preaching any particular text. So he went to Susannah, his wife, saying frantically, “I’ve got to preach in the morning, but I don’t know what to do.”
“Calm down, honey,” she responded. “Why don’t you just go to sleep? You need the rest.” He said, “Will you wake me up extra early in the morning? I’ve got to preach tomorrow.” Susannah promised him, “I’ll take care of it. I’ll wake you up early.” So they go to bed, and in the middle of the night, while he’s sleeping, he just starts preaching. This isn’t just a legend—it’s in his autobiography. And as he’s talking in his sleep, Susannah wakes up, grabs some paper and starts taking notes. She’s really excited, but once he’s finished she goes back to sleep.
They both sleep past the time she was supposed to wake him up. He wakes up and says, “You were supposed to wake me up!” She replied, “Honey, I’m so sorry I didn’t wake you up early. But—I have good news for you.” She pulls out the notes and starts reading them to him. “Wow, that’s what I’m going to preach on!” “You already did!”
I’m just wondering if I need to ask Heather to be ready to take notes at night. However, in my case, I didn’t quite get to that point.
So this past Friday night as I was praying, it just hit me that as we would be gathering this morning, Hurricane Irma—potentially one of the worst storms of our generation, a category four storm—would be barrelling down on our countrymen, including many of our brothers and sisters in Christ in Florida. That storm is obviously following the severe flooding from Hurricane Harvey, affecting people across the Houston area. Then I started thinking about what’s going on beyond our country—the turmoil we see all over the news. There are other natural disasters, like the strongest earthquake in a century hitting Mexico this week, killing many. Several of you have seen the flooding in India, Bangladesh and Nepal that’s affecting over 40 million people right now.
Then you think about moral disasters, like hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who are fleeing Myanmar right now. Think about North Korea continuing to test missiles and threatening nuclear war. And then on a more personal level, late Friday night I got a call that my good friend Jonathan—who, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, has been battling a brain tumor—had gone to be with the Lord. So I sat there processing all of this, and I thought, “I don’t think I’m the only one in the world whose heart is heavy when I see all this.”
As I was praying, realizing we’d be meeting while a massive hurricane was hitting our country, one text immediately came to my mind, and I had a clear sense that this is the word of the Lord for us on this day. In light of all that’s going on around us right now in our world, we desperately need to pause and hear the Word of God. So I’ve titled this sermon “God’s Word in a Turbulent World.” One of the things I love about this Book is that it’s not disconnected from our lives. It speaks into our lives, right where we are. So for the next few minutes I want us to listen to God, and then I want to let that lead us into a time of prayer particularly for people around us—in our lives, in our country, and in the world—who are walking through difficult and even disastrous days. Does that sound good?
So, why Luke 13? Well, when we think about evil and suffering in the world, there are really two main categories: moral and natural. Natural disasters would include hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, monsoons. And then moral disaster and evil would include everything from wars and terrorism, to murder and rape like we see among the Rohingya or ISIS or on the Korean peninsula. In Luke 13, this short text, Jesus addresses both moral and natural disasters. Listen to what Luke, who wrote the book of Acts we’ve been studying, writes in Luke 13:1–5:
There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] 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.”
So what does that text mean? Why would that text come to my mind when thinking about all that’s going on in the world around us right now? Well, there are some things we’re not completely sure of in this text. It’s a teaching from Jesus that’s unique to Luke’s Gospel, so we don’t have other accounts to help fill in the blanks. We see two events described here. In the first, some Galileans were offering sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem and apparently they were killed by Roman troops in some sort of ambush. In the second event, Jesus mentions a tower in Siloam which fell suddenly and unexpectedly, killing 18 people. So these are pictures of both natural and moral disasters.
People were asking Jesus to comment on these events, in much the same way as we might ask Him what we should think about hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the monsoons and flooding in India? How are we to understand what’s going on with the Rohingya or in North Korea right now? In this text God helps us think about these things in at least four ways. As we look around at the moral and natural disasters, there are four reminders that we gain from this text.
Luke 13 teaches us that this world is not predictable for any of us.
As we look at moral and natural disasters in the world around us, we must remember that this world is not predictable for any of us. Think about both of these events recorded in Luke 13. In both situations the people died in a way they didn’t see coming. Suddenly, surprisingly, unexpectedly, they died in a place and at a time when they probably felt the most safe and secure. I mean, how much closer could you be to God’s safety than when you’re offering sacrifices at the temple in worship of Him? What more secure place to be than next to a tower erected to defend the city against attack?
Jesus takes these two instances to remind His hearers that there is no place in this world that is 100% safe and secure. This world is not predictable for any of us. Anything can happen at any time. Think about the people affected by these events in Luke 13. When they woke up that morning, none of them were thinking, “This might be my last day.” No, they were thinking, “I’m going to go to the temple, offer some sacrifices, and then I’ll do this or that with my family. I’ll run some errands. I’ll take the shortcut by the tower, then I’ll go to this place or that place.” They didn’t see this coming.
This is the way moral and natural disasters work in our lives. It’s how suffering comes. You go to a routine physical exam, and all of a sudden it turns into a life-altering event. You answer a call on the phone, expecting to hear a normal voice on the other end. Instead you hear somebody crying, and they share news that turns the rest of your life upside down. I have talked with men and women in this church just over this last month, or even the last couple weeks, who have walked through these kinds of events. None of them expected it.
And that’s just in our lives. On a grander scale, none of us knows when or where the next hurricane is coming. None of us knows when or what North Korea is going to do next. On and on and on—this world is not predictable for any of us. Life is not predictable—and it’s certainly not guaranteed. This reality is not just for those in Texas or Florida or India or Myanmar or South Korea. This is for us right here in this room and in our other campuses. Not one of us is guaranteed to make it through today. Do you realize That you’re not guaranteed to make it through to the end of this service? You’re not—and I’m not. None of us is guaranteed to be here next week. I don’t mean this to be depressing, but I do mean it to be eye-opening. Natural and moral disasters remind us that today could be the last day for anyone among us.
This affected the way our forefathers in the faith thought. Jonathan Edwards wrote in his Resolutions, which he recited every day, “Resolved: to think much on all occasions of my own dying and of the common circumstances which attend death.” You might say, “Well, that’s depressing. That’s morbid. Why would someone live that way? Resolved to think much on all occasions of my own dying and the common circumstances which attend death—why would you live like that?”
Here’s why. You need to remember that your house and your bank account and your health and your exercising and your car and your nice job and your comfortable life guarantee you nothing in this world. If you cling to the things of this world, you will cling to them in vain. Because this world is unpredictable—a sobering reality Scripture never shies away from. In light of what’s going on around us in this world, God is reminding us that nothing is predictable.
So hear His Word. Don’t put your hope in this world, and don’t let the adversary blind you to this world’s unpredictability. The devil would like nothing more than for us to see Fox News or CCN, on television or on our phone, and think, “That could never happen where I am.” Anything can absolutely happen to any of us today. Natural and moral disasters remind us that this world is not predictable for any of us.
Luke 13 teaches us that death is the penalty for sin that plagues all of us.
This leads directly to the second reminder: death is the penalty for sin that plagues all of us. Natural and moral disasters like we’re seeing in our world remind us that death is the penalty for sin that plagues all of us. The people who were questioning Jesus in Luke 13 believed that any tragedy that happened to someone was due to a particular sin in their life. Remember the man born blind we read about in John 9. People in that story asked Jesus, “Why was this man born blind? Was it because of his sin or his parents’ sin?” Or think about Job’s supposed friends who saw the disasters that struck him and his household in which all his children were killed. They said to Job, “Obviously you’ve sinned against God. That’s why these things happened. Or at least your children must have sinned against God.”
The crowd in Luke 13 just assumed that these Galileans or the people crushed by the tower were worse sinners than others. They must have done something to deserve their deaths. But in response, Jesus confronts them with a reality we all need to hear: we are all sinners, and we are all equally deserving of death. He answers them in verse two, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you.” He repeats this in verse four, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you.”
In other words, the fact that these people died during these disasters has nothing to do with their righteousness or unrighteousness. Don’t misunderstand this. Jesus is not saying that the people who died were innocent. He tells them no one is innocent. We’ve all sinned, and the penalty for sin is death for all people. Any attempt to compare your sin to other sin in an event like this is fruitless, because all of us are guilty of sin and all of us deserve death.
I do want to be careful here, because we have evidence in the Old Testament, for example, of God bringing judgment upon particular people in their sins. Sometimes He does that through calamity. I’m reading about that in my quiet time right now. In Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Lamentations, God is bringing judgment upon His people in Jerusalem in response to their rebellion. But what Jesus is saying very clearly here in Luke is that it is not our place to play God and determine whose sin caused what. Instead, events like this should remind us of the penalty of sin—death—which plagues every single one of us.
Once we realize that, it changes everything about our perspective. Once we realize that, the question is no longer, “Why did this happen to them?” The question now is, “Why has this not happened to me?” That’s a different way to think. It’s not how we think, because we think we deserve blessing and prosperity. We think anything bad that happens to us is unfair to us, causing us to call into question the very goodness and power of God—or perhaps even the existence of God altogether.
But that’s not the way Jesus sees it. Instead, He affirms the sinfulness of all people, and He reminds these people that death is the penalty for their sin which they—and each one of us—deserve. So please don’t miss this, because it is so common for sinners like you and me, in the face of natural or moral disasters, to start treating God like a whipping boy. People start posting, tweeting, commenting, blogging, crying out, “How could God be good and allow this? Maybe God is weak and doesn’t have power to stop this. I don’t even think there is a God.” When all along, we fail to realize the only reason we have breath in this gathering right now is because of the grace and mercy of Almighty God.
So don’t miss this. This is such a different way to think. It’s not the way the world thinks. The only reason we as sinners are not cast away from God’s holy presence right now into eternal suffering is because His great mercy is keeping us. So God help us to realize the universal seriousness of all our sin. Be very careful, ladies and gentlemen. Do not for an instant think that any person who has lost their life in this or that disaster, or any person who has to flee their country as a refugee, is a worse sinner than you. We have this subtle but oh-so-sinful tendency to look at what happens in the Middle East or another part of the world and think, “Well, we’re not as bad of a sinner as they are.” The reality is, we are all sinners at the core. I urge you, do not let world events cause you to think of others as sinful and yourself as righteous, for that self-righteousness is in itself dreadfully sinful.
Luke 13 teaches us that we must repent and be reconciled to God.
Moral and natural disasters remind us that we live in a world of sin. We’re all sinners and all deserve death, which means we all need the grace of almighty God. This takes us to our third reminder that we must repent and be reconciled to God. This is the primary point of Luke 13. It’s the Word of God to us. Let’s hear it.
Think about the context. Jesus is addressing Jewish people who had grown cold; people who had lost sight of their own sinfulness and their need for repentance in their lives. It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t take their questions about these events and use them to dialog about the mystery of God’s ways. This was His chance to explain to them (and to us) why bad things like this happen to people. It’s a question we all ask. But He doesn’t choose to answer that.
Instead, He looks them square in the eye and says, “Repent. Turn from your sin and back to God.” It’s the same message He preached from the very beginning of His ministry: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It’s the same message we saw all over the book of Acts. Acts 3:19: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out.” That’s what repenting means—turning from sins.
Think about it. This world is not predictable for any of us. Death is the penalty for sin which plagues all of us. So Jesus says, “Repent.” Don’t sit around trying to figure out why this or that happened. Don’t try to figure out whose sin caused what. Please hear this, because God is saying in His Word to us right now the exact same thing Jesus said on that day. Look around you. Sin is universal in all of us, which means death is inevitable for each of us. Nothing in this world is predictable. You’re not guaranteed tomorrow. I’m not guaranteed tomorrow. So repent while you still have time today.
Right now, a storm is coming that will affect south Florida. But in a much, much more serious way, the storm of God’s holy righteous judgment is coming, and it will affect every single one of us. So I ask you this morning, right where you’re sitting, “Are you right with God right now?” There is no more important question you could answer on Sunday, September 10, than this. “Are you—where you’re sitting right now—are you right with God right now?”
Are you toying with sin in your life? Repent. Has your heart grown cold toward God? Repent. Are you running from God? Right now, are you living in willful, deliberate sin? Repent. Have you grown apathetic in your relationship with God? Repent. Cast yourself on the mercy of God today and plead for His grace, and He will give it! My Bible reading plan this morning was in Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” Hear this good news. If you repent and turn from your sin right now, the steadfast love and mercy of God is waiting for you, and He will blot out all your transgressions.
This is the great news of the gospel—God has sent His Son Jesus to pay the penalty for the sin that plagues all of us. Jesus has died for us. As we sang a few minutes ago, “You stood in my place.” He paid the price. He endured the judgment we deserve so that we can repent and come to Him. The very fact we can repent is a picture of the grace and mercy of God. So don’t turn a blind eye and deaf ear to divine mercy. Repent and be reconciled to God. In light of everything going on around us in the world, this is the Word of God spoken straight to your heart: “Repent! Be reconciled to Him.”
Luke 13 teaches us that we must live with urgency for what matters in eternity.
Then flowing from that is our final reminder coming from natural and moral disasters: we must live with urgency for what matters in eternity. We’re surrounded by so much triviality in the world. Can we just stop for a moment to feel the weight of this text in light of the world around us? Life is fleeting. This is the Word of God. I’ve been memorizing different parts of the Psalms. Psalm 39:4 says, “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” The psalmist says, “I need You to remind me how fleeting I am.” We need to be reminded of that.
James 4:14: “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” You’re a vapor. You’re here one second and gone the next. It’s like a mist or vapor. You’re not here very long. Life is fleeting for every one of us, and eternity is coming. Every single one of us in this room is going to stand before almighty God very soon. You’re going to stand before God very soon. And in your sin, on your own, you will not be able to withstand His judgment. You need Jesus. You need Jesus now, because without Him you will perish forever. This is not just a game. We’re talking about forever. It’s not just a church routine. We’re talking about eternal realities here. Repent now before God, or perish forever.
In another part of my quiet time the morning, I read in Ezekiel how the prophet was warning the people. But they responded, “We’re going to wait. That’s not going to happen any time soon.” Ezekiel said, “It’s coming,” but they wouldn’t listen. Don’t think it’s not going to happen any time soon. You’re not guaranteed to make it through the rest of this service. Repent now, or perish forever. This is the Word of God. And then when you repent, for God’s sake call your family and friends and neighbors and coworkers to repent. Eternity’s not just coming for you—it’s coming for them.
It’s just like the warnings that are being given all across south Florida, “It’s coming! It’s coming.” How much more should we give warnings that the storm of God’s holy righteous judgment is coming. People need to hear about the danger they’re in and about the grace God will give if they will repent. So spend your life making this message known with urgency. That’s what’s going to matter in eternity. Oh, brothers and sisters, live for what matters in eternity, because there’s coming a day very, very, very soon when it will not matter how much money you made. It won’t matter how nice your car or house or clothes were. Not one thing you’ve accumulated in this life will matter, because all that stuff is going to burn up in the fire. So live today with urgency for what is going to matter in eternity.
I mentioned my friend Jonathan. He was a brother who lived for what mattered. Just picture this scene Friday night. He’s in a hospice bed in his home. He’s surrounded by his wife and his three young kids who love and adore him. He’s poured his life into friends. He’s shared life with them. This is a brother who started a company with one friend in Afghanistan, because he wanted to shine the light of Christ there. He has lived with urgency for what matters in eternity.
One of his friends who was at the house called me late Friday night. With tears, he told me the story of what happened. Jonathan’s friends and family were gathered around the bed. His breathing was really slow. They could tell this was it. They were praying. They were reading the Word out loud, trusting that maybe he could hear it. They were singing, including the song we sang a couple weeks ago, “Because He Lives.” When they got to that last verse—remember what it says? “Then one day I’ll cross the river. I’ll fight life’s final war with pain. And then, as death gives way to victory, I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives.” They sang that last chorus, and right then Jonathan took his last breath. Think about your life. What’s going to matter on that day for you? Live today with urgency for that day.
This is the Word of God. I believe it leads us to pray, and I want to invite all of us to spend some time in prayer in one of three ways. Well, I say that, but you can pray in all three of these ways. But if you decide just to camp out on one, that’s fine. Just think about the reality of this moment. We’ve got the Word before us. He has spoken. There’s a hurricane barrelling down on our country right now. There are natural and moral disasters in our personal lives and around the world, from Rohingya to North Korea. So I want to invite us to pray in three ways.
- Pray for the church, for us to spend the next few minutes praying in part for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Florida, in Houston, in India, in Myanmar, North Korea. Pray the Word. Pray Psalm 46. Pray that they will cling to God as their refuge and strength, that they would be still and know that He is God. Pray that they would cling to the One Who has said nothing can separate them from His love. Pray Philippians 4, that God would meet all of their needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Pray that in that, God would give them grace to meet others’ needs, to be able to point others to God, to be able to serve and care for others around them, particularly those who don’t know Christ.
- Pray for the lost. Pray for people in south Florida who don’t know Christ—in Houston, India, the Rohingya. They’re a Muslim people group. They don’t know the peace of Christ. They’re experiencing all this suffering, and they don’t know the peace of Christ. Pray for people who at this moment don’t know God. Pray that they will not curse God, but instead that they will see Him in the midst of what’s going on around them and that they will come to trust in Him. Pray that they will hear the best news in all the world—that there is a Savior Who is familiar with their suffering, Who has conquered sin and death, Who brings the hope of eternal life, where there will be no more sorrow or suffering or pain. So yes, let’s pray for their physical needs to be met. Let’s pray for emotional needs to be met. And most importantly, at the core, let’s pray for their spiritual needs to be met in Christ. Let’s pray for the lost.
- Pray for yourselves. I want to invite you to pray for yourselves. You might think that sounds selfish in the face of all these other needs. But in light of this word, some of you need to pray for your life right now. Some of you here have never put your faith in Christ. Or you may have played a Christian religious game for a long time, but you are separated from God. He has brought you here this morning to hear this word from Him: “Repent, or perish.” Repent and be reconciled to God. I urge you, friend, do not toy with eternity. Do not trifle with God.
Your sin against Him is infinitely serious, but His grace toward you is immediately available. You’re not guaranteed tomorrow. You’re not guaranteed the rest of today. The really amazing thing right now is not that various people have been afflicted by various disasters, but that you have been spared and given another day to repent. So see the mercy of God in this life. Turn from your sin and put your trust in Jesus. Do that now. When we pray, just ask God to save you. Say, “I believe in Jesus, that He died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead for my sins. I’m trusting in You. I’m turning from my sin and trusting in You.”
Then some of you have trusted in Christ, but you’ve wandered far from Him. God has given you this word today as a wake-up call. He’s calling you back to Him. He’s calling you to repent of the sin in your life and to be reconciled to Him. If that’s you, I urge you to heed His warning. Receive His mercy which is yours today. And then, brothers and sisters, let’s recommit our lives to live with urgency for what matters in eternity. Let’s resolve today, “God, help me not to waste another day living for that which doesn’t matter in an unpredictable world. I’m going to make my life count for what’s going to matter forever. Give me a new perspective on my life.” So in light of God’s Word to us, in light of the events in the world around us, I just want to invite us to pray for the church, for the lost and for ourselves.
I want to mention one other thing. During this time, I urge you to fight the tendency to be distracted. This is an extremely important time. So don’t be thinking about what you’re going to do after the service. We’re interacting with almighty God. He’s just spoken to us. We’re responding to Him. In light of that, I want to give you the freedom to move to the aisle or to the front here—wherever there’s space—to get on your knees before God. That’s obviously a biblical picture—casting yourself on the mercy of God, crying out for the church, the lost or even yourself. Let’s spend the next few minutes going before the Lord, crying out to Him based on however He’s speaking to our heart right now.
O God, we come before You humbly, with a sense of fear and trembling. We know You are the Creator of the world. You are the Sustainer of our lives. You are the only One Who can sustain people in south Florida right now, and You’re the only One Who can sustain people in this room. Psalm 31:15 reminds us that our times are in Your hands.
God, we pray for Your mercy on those in south Florida right now. We pray that those who know You would trust in You, that You would indeed be their refuge and strength. Provide for them as their Rock, we pray.
We pray for those who don’t know You, Lord, that You would help them know You in this storm. Show Your mercy. Show Your grace. We pray You would work this together for the good of those who love You and have been called according to Your purpose. We pray that You would bless all those who are working to help those in need there in the hours and days to come. We pray for those responders and for our government, that they would have wisdom to know how best to serve those in need.
We pray similarly for people around the world who are flooded out in India, who are fleeing Myanmar. God, show Your mercy. Lord, we pray, have mercy. As we cry out for them, we cry out for Your mercy in our lives. We know things are not right in this world. Things are not right because we have rebelled against You. We have sinned against You. In a room this size, how many sins have we committed against you? We can’t begin to count them. So we cry out for Your mercy. Forgive us, O God. Forgive us, we pray.
We praise You, Jesus, for taking the price for all of those sins upon Yourself. We praise You for dying on the cross in our place for our sins. We praise you, Lord Jesus, for rising from the dead and gaining victory over sin and death. You’ve made repentance possible. We repent this morning, and we turn from our sin, and we trust in You. We need You. We want You, so help us, God, we pray. Help us to turn from sin. Help us to see the seriousness of sin in our lives, and help us to run from it—not to flirt with it, but to run from it. Help us to live in righteousness. By Your grace, please help us, O God.
As we do, help us to hold out the peace of Christ in a world of turbulence around us. Lord God, our world needs Your mercy, and we need Your mercy. We plead for it, in the powerful name of Jesus, knowing You hear us and You promise to give us the mercy we need. All glory be to Your name. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.