Another hurricane is bearing down on the East coast. Ranked as a category 4 storm, it’s expected to do a lot of damage. It’s possible that people will die as a result. Natural disasters damage property, take lives, and leave people homeless. These are what we call natural evil.
Moral evil, on the other hand, is evil that is directly caused by man. Murders, rape, sex-trafficking, abortions are just a few ways that this evil rears it’s head.
Whether it’s moral evil or natural evil, people often still ask the same question: “How could God allow this to happen?” A biblical answer will include such things as the curse on Creation and the free will of man. But have you ever wondered how Jesus himself would answer?
1 There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
4 Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
6 He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. 7 Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? 8 And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: 9 And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down. (Luke 13:1–9)
Jesus gives us two examples of evil—a moral evil and a natural evil. Then he gives us a parable to teach a truth about repentance.
A MORAL EVIL (13:1-3)
Luke 13:1 There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
We aren’t told exactly who these Galilaeans were or even how many there were. Most likely they were a group of pilgrims from Galilee who had been in Jerusalem for the Passover. No reason is given why they were killed by Pilate. The fact that no reason is given—and what Jesus says next—indicates that they had done nothing wrong.
Pilate was a typical Roman ruler, willing to crush any resistance with force. Perhaps the Galilaeans were caught in the crossfire between soldiers and a rebel group. Tragically, they were in the midst of making sacrifices at the temple when they were killed, and their blood mixed with the blood of their sacrifices.
Luke 13:2 And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?
There are two opposite errors that people make concerning the reason for bad things happening to people. The first was common in Bible times: the victims must have committed some great sin to deserve it. Jesus alludes to this view when he says, “Suppose ye that these were sinners above all the Galilaeans.”
Job’s friends are classic examples of this. Over and over, they insisted that Job must have sinned greatly in order to suffer so much. Or, in John 9, when Jesus and his disciples met a blind man, the disciples wondered: “…Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind” (John 9:2)?
It’s true that God does sometimes immediately judge sinners for sin—just look at Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. Other sins have built-in consequences, such as sexually-transmitted diseases. But this is not what is the case here—many of our sufferings are not a direct result of our sins.
The opposite error is more common today: people assume that they are innocent victims and God has no right to allow tragic things to happen in their lives. Far from supposing that someone sinned greatly, today we assume that people are by nature good and not even sinners.
Jesus strikes at both errors when he says,
Luke 13:3 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
Everyone needs to repent or they will perish forever. In contradiction to first error, Jesus says that there are no distinctions between normal sinners and great sinners. In contradiction to the second error, Jesus says that all people are sinners who need to repent or they will perish.
Next, Jesus gives an example of…
A NATURAL EVIL (13:4-5)
Luke 13:4 Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
Here Jesus brings up what must have been a recent accident that everyone knew about. A “tower” of some sort near the pool of “Siloam” (or possibly in a district of Jerusalem by that name) had fallen and crushed eighteen people.
We can only speculate as to the cause. Maybe it was old and unsafe, maybe it was in the process of being built, or maybe the tower was a scaffolding that collapsed.
This is an example of natural evil because it probably was not the fault of anyone in particular. It just fell. It was a tragic accident.
Moral evil is caused by people acting in evil ways. It’s easier to blame someone. Natural evil can be harder to explain to people because they are more directly “acts of God.”
In most cases, when we explain this to people, we take a different tack in explaining natural evil than we would a moral evil. We focus more on the brokenness of creation than we would on God giving men and women free will.
Does Jesus take a different tack to explain this natural evil?
Luke 13:5 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
Nope! Jesus’s response is still the same. Dr. Clay Jones imagines the dialogue from Luke 13 to go like this:
Questioner: Jesus, we have the problem of evil here, the great problem of the ages. People are being killed, Jesus. What have you got to say?
Jesus: They weren’t worse sinners, they were just sinners, and unless you repent, you’ll die too. Next?
Questioner: Whoa! Jesus, hold on for a minute here! This is the PROBLEM OF EVIL! The question of the ages! Philosophers have debated this forever! People are dying here, Jesus! What have you got to say?
Jesus: They weren’t worse sinners, they were just sinners, and unless you repent, you’ll die too. Next?
Questioner: No, Jesus, don’t you get it?! Let me put it to you this way. You see, if God were all-loving, He would want to prevent evil. If God were all-powerful, He could prevent evil…
Jesus: They weren’t worse sinners, they were just sinners, and unless you repent, you’ll die too. Next? (from Aaron Brake)
Jesus’s answer to why bad things happen to people is that we’re all sinners who are worthy of death. It’s notable that Jesus does not say that the people who perished in these instances did not deserve to die. It’s true that they did not commit a specific sin that caused their deaths, but they did die because they were sinners.
12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (Romans 5:12)
23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
While the victims of Pilate and a falling tower may not have been more deserving of death than others, they certainly were not undeserving of death. We all deserve the penalty of death. Jesus says that, unless his listeners repent, they will also perish.
Jesus uses tragic events as a megaphone to call attention to our sin and our destiny if we continue in it. He calls us to repentance, not to philosophical musing about why there is evil. We should look at disasters and instead of asking, “What did I do to deserve this?” we need to ask, “Why did this not happen to me sooner?”
The fact that you have any peace in your life, any wellness in your bones, any goodness that happens to you is a mark of God’s mercy to you and patience with you. Jesus illustrates this point with a parable about a barren fig tree.
A BARREN TREE (13:6-7)
Luke 13:6 He spake also this parable;
In the New Testament, a parable is a story that makes a point by using an illustration from a common life situation.
A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Luke 13:7 Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years [i.e., it should be mature by now] I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground [i.e., why should it take up space and nutrients]?
I am always hesitant to allegorize the different parts of parables unless there are clear clues in the passage as to what the different parts mean.
However, the “fig tree” seems to represent Israel (although I don’t think it has to in order for the point to come across). There are other scriptures where Israel is pictured as a vineyard or a fig tree—Jeremiah 24:1-8; Micah 4:4, 7:1 and especially Isaiah 5:1-7. In the Isaiah passage, Israel is pictured as an unfruitful vineyard that has its wall tore down so it is overrun and trampled down.
Fig trees normally produce two crops a year, and this one has had none. Jesus mentions that it’s been “three years,” which has to do with the maturity of the tree. It should be producing fruit by now. The owner of the fig tree, who represents God, is disgusted with the unfruitfulness of the tree and decides that the time has come to cut it down and start over.
This should give us pause as Christians. Sometimes we think of our salvation as being nothing more than a “Get out of Hell Free” card. That’s all that it is to us. But it’s so much more. God wants to grow us into the image of his Son, Jesus Christ. The Christian should be growing and bearing fruit.
Of course, God is not going to remove our salvation and throw us into Hell for a lack of spiritual growth. But do you see his heart for us here? God’s efforts in saving us is for us to become like Jesus! That’s been his intention for us from eternity past:
29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)
We are not our own fig tree. We are owned by God (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). Do we care about what our owner wants for us? Are we growing spiritually and bearing fruit for him?
A SECOND CHANCE (13:8-9)
Luke 13:8 And he [the dresser] answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: Luke 13:9 And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.
The “dresser” (the hired garden manager) might represent Jesus or he might represent the grace of God’s character as opposed to the owner representing the judgment side of God’s character.
The “dresser” wants to give the tree one more chance. He proposes to “dig about it, and dung it.” The digging around it probably means that the roots of the tree are bound up and digging around it will loosen the soil and free up the roots. The “dung” is familiar to any rancher or farmer—it’s manure being used for fertilizer.
It’s possible that these measures parallel with Jesus’s extra-ordinary measures to come in the flesh, live among his people, and then to die for them. But the Jews would reject Jesus as their Messiah, and so they blew their last chance. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11).
Whether or not I’ve got the elements of the parable correct, the point is clear. God will judge those who are unfruitful—who do not come to repentance. He, in his mercy, might give one more chance, but one day the tree will be cut down.
Think about this. Has Jesus been digging around in your life, trying to free you from your attachment to the world and to your sin?
I remember as an unsaved teenager how I kept getting involved with friends who were Christians. One classmate in seventh grade brought his Bible to school and read it during lunch break. His example impacted me. Another friend showed me how he would print out chapters of the Bible in double-spaced format so that he could write notes and draw connecting lines as he studied the text. I had never thought about actually studying the Bible before.
God, in his providence, works in the lives of people, loosening the soil and dumping fertilizer, to prepare the soil. If you are not a Christian, can you see how God has been preparing your soil? Maybe it’s by putting Christian witnesses in your life. Maybe it’s by making you feel guilt over your sin.
Whatever means God is using, he is calling to you to repent and believe. He is giving you a chance, but it’s a limited time only. The caretaker mentions only trying the digging and dunging for a year—a season. The season of God’s grace for you will come to an end. The Bible warns us:
6 Seek ye the Lord while he may be found,
Call ye upon him while he is near: (Isaiah 55:6)
Don’t miss the opportunity that God has given you. Repent and believe now!
Jesus’s answer to why bad things happen is that we should repent. If you are wondering why this terrible thing happened to so and so, just stop. Consider how it could have been you. Ask yourself, “Am I ready to meet the Lord?” If you are not, consider that terrible event to be a call to you—a second chance from the Lord—to repent and believe.
The basic definition of repentance is to change your mind; turn around and go in a different direction. There are two parts to repenting:
1) You need to change your mind about your sin. Most people see their sin as not that big of a deal—they don’t do anything really that bad. But a person who repents sees themselves as deserving eternal punishment in Hell. They see themselves as unable to save themselves from their sin.
2) You also need to change your mind about Jesus Christ. Whatever he is to you now: a good teacher, a flannel graph memory from children’s Sunday School, a made-up fable, or something else—Christ must be affirmed as the only Savior.
In other words, to repent, you must turn from sin and you must turn to Christ. And you must do this before grace runs out and you perish.
Levi Durfey—LDM-42-Luke 13.1-9-LKA#070-20190901FBCAM-SERMON