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There have been many events in my lifetime that I remember vividly. I remember July 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong climbed down the ladder and said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” I remember the Berlin wall coming down in 1989. I remember the space shuttle Challenger exploding 73 seconds into flight back in 1986 and the less remembered Columbia in 2003. We all remember hurricane Katrina in 2005. The earthquake, tsunami, and reactor meltdowns in Japan last March. The devastating tornadoes in Alabama last April. There is one that stands out in my memory more vividly than these. 10 years ago today, there was an event unlike any other. No other event since the attack on Pearl Harbor has caused such national outrage. Unlike Pearl Harbor, the enemy that attacked us on 9/11 had no defined boarders. It was a war that hit us where we least expected it – on our home soil utilizing not fighter aircraft, not military, or bombs, but our own commercial airplanes. We watched in horror at the live television coverage. The investigation that followed left us with more questions than answers with many people asking the question, “How could a loving God let this happen?” Maybe this morning we can approach this 10 year anniversary of 9/11 from a different perspective
Luke 13:1-9 gives a great parallel and I encourage you to grab your Bible and read it.
Here’s the background. Jesus once again was in front of the crowds. He had been teaching, answering questions, speaking in parables. We don’t know how many people there were, but I’m sure his disciples were there and of course the Pharisees that continually tested Him. This event is recorded only by Luke. It was on this occasion that, “Some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.” (Luke 13:1) Jesus heard that statement and also mentions the falling of the Tower of Siloam. This is very interesting as we consider the events of 10 years ago. Jesus does not ignore the statement concerning the mixing of blood. He doesn’t ignore the human suffering that had occurred. Likewise, the church does not need to get overly spiritual and give pat answers for events like 9/11.
Do you remember where you were when you heard the news of 9/11? I was waiting for a 9:00 a.m. meeting to start when I was stationed onboard the USS Maine. I watched as the second plane hit the south tower and all doubt was removed as to what was happening. I was sitting on the most powerful war machine ever created. I went home to gather some last minute items I would need for deployment. I had trained for 18 years for this moment. I had the same emotions everyone else did. How could this happen in America? Why? Sorrow at the loss of life. Having a desire to help, but being helpless to do anything. Watching as the cameras zoomed in on those people at the windows pleading for help. How will this affect us? These emotions are present not only in national tragedy but also in personal suffering. These events bring up the question of the causes of human suffering. Some concluded that the tragedy of 9/11 was due to America’s sin. But what sin did the people killed on 9/11 commit? 9/11 was not due to some specific sins that the victims committed and Jesus tells His listeners the same thing.
Human moral evil does exists. Pilate was notorious for his brutal acts. Josephus records a number of Pilates’ atrocities but not this particular one. This was particularly heinous. The Galileans Luke writes about were killed while offering sacrifices. Who would ever expect to be destroyed in the temple? How can people be so evil? Jer. 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” I really like the KJV translations that says it a bit differently, “The heart is evil and desperately wicked.” Why would we be shocked at this act of terrorism? Human depravity runs very deep. Jesus went beyond commenting on what Pilate did. Jesus mentions the Tower of Siloam falling. The tower was built to protect a principle water supply of Jerusalem. When it fell, 18 people were killed. That’s a far cry from the 2977 victims of 9/11. Is the suffering and grief less when one of the people that dies is your spouse, or parent, or child? Jesus was never one for political correctness. He had a very conservative nature. For Jesus, truth is truth. I’m sure the media of the day would have blasted His remarks. Always teaching, Jesus took the opportunity to remind His listeners of the frailty of life. Followers of Christ are often put on the spot in events such as 9/11 or in natural disasters. When tragedy strikes, people demand answers. Perhaps we’ll retreat with cliché sayings like, “It’s time for all of us to come together.” “God is still in control.” We don’t see Jesus doing that though. He says, “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Wow, no I’m sorry for your loss. He didn’t say, “Well I’m sure they’re all in a better place.” When faced with tragedy, we must be truthful. Not everyone who died on 9/11 went to heaven and that is something we don’t like to verbalize. Only those who had an authentic relationship with Christ went to heaven. We live in a world where there are no guarantees for tomorrow. Paul understood this urgency when he said, “Now is the day of salvation” in 2 Cor. 6:2.
Even in the midst of all this, Jesus still cares. Whether natural or man-made tragedy, Jesus is compassionate. If you read this passage quickly, you might miss it. Jesus’ words may be to the point, but they aren’t lacking compassion. Had we been in the group listening to Jesus, we would see it written all over His face. I believe it was very difficult for Him to say, “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” It wasn’t a flippant, they had a chance and they blew it type of response. The whole purpose of His life was stepping out of a perfect place to make a way for mankind to have a relationship with the Father. There is a hope in the face of great personal and national tragedy. Jesus cares, that’s why He gave the warning to repent – twice in this passage. In the wake of 9/11, Christians around the nation eagerly anticipated a turning to God. Everyone was quoting 2 Chr. 7:14, “And My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” And almost shockingly we ask ourselves, where is God? Yet we ignored the instructions to humble ourselves, pray, seek and turn from our wicked ways. The people of Jerusalem never expected the tower of Siloam to fall. The World Trade Center and the Pentagon are symbols of America’s economic and military strength. The attacks of 9/11 reminded the world that a nation cannot rely on economic or military power. America trusted in herself rather than God. It is a startling contrast to the Psalmist’s words, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” (Ps. 33:12) As a church have we been faithful to preach the good news of Jesus Christ? Have we demonstrated the love of Christ in our lives?
There is a seemingly strange conclusion to the passage in Luke. In this passage Jesus asked a couple of questions. In v. 2 He said, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners that all the other Galileans because they suffered this fate?” In v. 4 the question is, “Do you suppose that those eighteen . . . were worse culprits than all the men that lived in Jerusalem?” In other words, did these people allowed to die because they were worse than anyone else around? There is comfort in Jesus’ response. Look at v. 6-7. A fig tree’s job is to produce figs. For three years, the tree failed to do its job and the man that owned the vineyard had had enough. He told the vineyard keeper to cut down the worthless tree. But the vineyard keeper asked for another chance. He said he’d dig around it, give it some fertilizer. If the tree didn’t do what it was supposed to do, then he’d cut it down. The fig tree was given another chance, but the time was limited. God is a God of compassion and mercy, but He is also a God of justice. Many people cheered and applauded the report that Osama Bin Laden had been eliminated. While this news brought huge relief to some, I assure you, others will rise up to take his place. America represents self-government, independence, and freedom.
Rom. 13:3-4 says, “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” God has given temporary justice to rulers – to Presidents and governing bodies and that justice is sometimes less than perfect. Final justice belongs to God, and it will be perfect justice. Job 34:12, “Surely, God will not act wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice.” There is comfort because God is still in control. Pro. 21:1 reminds us that, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.”
Were the people killed in the attacks heroes? Although there are many stories of heroic action during and after the vents, most were regular people like you and me. No one woke up on 9/11 and thought that it was the day their life would end. There is still time, but it is running out. When tragedy strikes, we have the opportunity, obligation, and privilege to gently and lovingly declare that there is a hope. There’s still time for you to choose to live the life that God wants for you. There’s still time for you to live a life of authenticity.