|Painting by Yoram Raanan; www.yoramraanan.com; www.facebook.com/RaananArt|
Luke 15:1-7 All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to Him. And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!”
So He told them this parable: “What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need repentance."
A couple of questions for you: Do you need to repent, and is repentance an event or a process? I think repentance is a place we visit frequently. Isaiah 30:15 says, "In repentance and rest is your salvation", which to me, means a place we visit frequently. But, Galatians 5:1 says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free", which seems to mean that we don't live in, 'getting set free", but in, 'freedom'.
There are people out there who assume it is God's will when people die in accidents or are killed tragically. And there are people who don't think they need to repent. Jesus' word is that we all need to repent.
Jesus would say the same thing today about any disaster, whether from nature or from a homicidal maniac, who takes lives. He would say, "Unless you repent, you too will perish." Jesus sees us all as sinners. We all, in the human race, are sinners; no matter what kind of collar we wear, or with whatever other measure you might use; we are all sinners.
We either were sinners and have repented, are repenting, and are repentant, or on the other hand, we still are sinners and need to repent. Those are the two categories. We can get vicariously involved with the question of tragic deaths, but the real question for each of us is, "Have you repented?".
Repentance means 'turn away'.
The context of Luke 12:1 to 13:9, is preparation for the coming judgement.(1) Jesus does not comment on any link between these tragic deaths and sin, except to say to the living, "No, but unless you repent, you too will perish". Jesus says that these folks who died were no more sinful and no more guilty than the average person there. I believe the same applies today.
The word 'repentance' is used by Jesus again, two chapters later. He says that there is more joy in heaven, over the one sinner who repents, than over the ninety-nine righteous ones. The point is that the ninety-nine think they are righteous and don't think they need to repent. They are out of touch with the fact that they are lost.
All of us are lost without the living Christ.
George Ladd wrote this in his book, A Theology of The NT, (p. 56):
Even Israel, the people of the covenant, are lost; Jesus came to seek and to save them (Mt. 10:6, 15:24; Lk. 19:10). When Jesus said that he did not come to call the righteous but sinners (Mk. 2:17) or when he speaks of the righteous who have no need of repentance (Lk. 15:7), he does not mean to say that there are some who are actually righteous, who do not need repentance. He is only reflecting the view of religious Jews who considered themselves righteous and did not heed his summons.Ladd then quotes Kummel:(2)
It is His intention to tell His opponents who see themselves as righteous rather than sinful, that His call to salvation is directed precisely at those who are ready to listen to Him because they are aware of their sinfulness. His opponents' mistake lies in the fact that they exclude themselves from insight into their own sinfulness, whereas Jesus presupposes that all men, including these 'righteous ones', are sinful.Heaven does not rejoice over smug self-righteousness. Heaven rejoices over a sinner who repents. Repent is an essential part of the message of Jesus, that is the gospel. The gospel, the message of Jesus is, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel"(Mk. 1:15).
Kingdom of God means 'rule of God'. Because the rule of God has invaded earth, through Christ, we need to repent and believe. The Kingdom of God, "is in reality the transcendent order beyond time and space that has broken into history in the mission of Jesus"(Ladd, pp. 58-9).
When we experience the in-breaking of God's rule and reign, it is natural to repent, to turn away from sin. But, repentance is a choice. We are constantly tempted to distract ourselves from the "I-Thou" intimate relationship with God and all the other relationships that require authenticity.
The people in the story from Luke, wondered about the people who died. They wondered about God's relationship to those people. They wondered, just like we wonder, about suffering and God. Is God powerless to stop it? Or does he choose to allow it? Or does he cause it?
'Why?' is the wrong question. The Bible does not explain the 'Why?' or the 'Why me?' The book of Job teaches that personal suffering is not always the result of personal sin. The Hindu doctrine of karma, which says that one suffers because of their previous sin is completely false.
Suffering can be due to sin, our sin or another's, because sin brings suffering; but all suffering is not due to our own sin. Suffering can and does come from Satan and his organization. Suffering also comes because we are human and feel pain, physical and emotional.
Suffering also happens because of the freedom of our environment. People are free to sin against each other, through negligence or evil behaviors; and nature is also free, within the parameters set by God, so that we have floods, hurricanes, droughts, earthquakes, and tsunamis that cause suffering and death, that is neither sent by God or brought on by our sins.
Conversely, God can strike people with suffering, like when he made Zechariah mute (Lk. 1:20). Jesus told a man that he healed to, "Stop sinning, or something worse may happen to you"(Jn. 5:14). Paul told the Corinthian Christians that they were eating and drinking in such a way as to be bringing judgement upon themselves; becoming weak, sick, and dead.(1 Cor. 11:30)
A cold, hard statistic is that over 99% of people end up dying and the Bible tells us that 100% of people need to repent. When we look at other people's tragedies and wonder about them and God, the real issue we are avoiding is ourselves and God.
Unless you repent, your fate will be worse.
Being in the place of, 'not needing to repent', is one of the worst places that a person can be, spiritually. Looking down on others as 'sinners' is a foolish position, because we are all sinners and perhaps the worst sin is pride. Pride was Satan's sin that caused him to fall; and maybe that is his favorite sin to bring people into: arrogance, hubris, and narcissism. The great sin, which is a great lie, is to think that you are better than others.
Many lost people know they are lost. They might even say that they know it and are not ready to quit. Jesus says to quit now, before it is too late. Then there is another group of people, perhaps a much larger group, who do not know they are lost, but they are lost.
Imagine going somewhere and you are lost, but you do not know it. The one who realizes they are lost, but does not want to be, will be looking for the right way and be willing to ask for help and get directions. But the one who sneers at the lost ones who are being found, and says, "I'm good", "I've got this", or "I'm covered", and yet, they are deceived; blind and deaf to the fact that they are lost. What hope is there for them?
1. Word Biblical Commentary, 35b, Luke, John Nolland, p. 719
2. Man in the NT, W. G. Kummel, p. 18
3. A Theology of the New Testament, G. E. Ladd, pp. 55-9