“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?” – Luke 13.2From David
Quite often, on a Thursday, Katy asks me what’s troubling me. I will say that it is my sermon for the following Sunday. When she asks me what the problem is, I respond, “I’m really excited about my sermon – all 60 minutes of it.” I then spend the rest of my time cutting bits out.
The exceptionally long blog that is about to follow, is one of the things I cut out!
In Luke 13.1-5, Jesus deals with a challenging incident that is the talk of the town. In my sermon today, I talk about how Jesus’ response helps us as we face COVID 19. What I wasn’t able to fit in was how Jesus’ example helps us to speak into challenging situations/questions better. So here are some principles we can learn from:
Jesus doesn’t duck the question
In Luke 13.1-5 Jesus has just been speaking about his ministry and the proper response to it. Suddenly he is confronted with a challenge. Luke doesn’t tell us about the motivation of those who told Jesus about the disaster: was it to try and catch him out? was it simply the news buzzing around? was it mentioned out of genuine distress? It is a reminder that people ask challenging questions in all sorts of ways and for all sorts of reasons.
What is noteworthy though, is that Jesus does not duck the challenge. He deals with it head on. In fact, he goes on to show how seriously he takes it by raising another and more challenging event. Why is the disaster of the tower of Siloam more challenging? The key element to the challenge is the question: “When a disaster hits someone is it because they are particularly sinful?” Jesus will go on to say, “No”. But notice this – the tower event made his argument more difficult not less. The death of the Galileans can be explained as the result of an evil man, not sinful victims. The accident of the tower collapse has no such easy explanation – it just seems unfair.
There is a helpful principle here in answering difficult questions, which is not to duck them, even when we don’t have a full answer (more of that later). In fact, we should try to express the difficult question more completely than the questioner has. So we should avoid choosing the most absurd example of the question, simply in order to shoot it down in flames. When we do that, we are often merely preaching to the choir, or trying to protect our own faith.
Jesus uses a question to answer a question
When Sam introduced a recent sermon series called, “Questions Jesus asked”, he pointed out how Jesus nearly always answered a question with a question. And he does so here. By asking “Do you think that they were more sinful than other Galileans/Jerusalemites?”, Jesus is helping his listeners to see something of their worldview. We all have a lens through which we view the world. The problem is that no-one sees the lens. I’ve worn glasses for 20+ years. What they do is change how I see things. The thing is, most of the time I am totally unaware of them, even when they are dirty. That is how a worldview works.
When someone has a non-Christian worldview lens, they often don’t recognise it – they just think that what they believe is obvious. More than that, until they look at their worldview lens, the truths of the gospel will appear wrong. When that worldview is shared by powerful voices around them, they won’t even feel the need to come up with strong arguments against Christianity – it is just ‘looks’ wrong. An example of that might be sexual ethics, or ‘beginning and end of life’ ethics.
Questions are one way of encouraging people to take their glasses off and start examining the lens through which they see the world.
Jesus doesn’t focus too long on the question that doesn’t matter
One of the very striking things is that having started with the question of the causes of the two tragedies (atrocity and disaster), Jesus moves on without fully answering it. In fact, he stops after he has dealt with discounting incorrect causes rather than going on to provide actual causes.
I am encouraged by the fact that this suggests that I don’t need to have a full answer to people’s question – often a partial answer is enough. There are a number of reasons for this:
We don’t have a full answer (and might never have), because big issues are so vast we would be surprised by, and in fact suspicious of, a ‘complete’ answer devised by limited human beings.
They won’t be able to handle a full answer. Most challenges to the Christian faith are based on a different view of the seriousness of sin – in fact the Atheist does not have a concept of sin at all. This means that, in the present stage of their journey, the lens of their worldview is such that they simply will not see the answer – so there isn’t normally much point in dwelling on it too long.
There is a more important issue to deal with. Jesus knows that the question of the causes of two past events is not actually that important. It might be emotionally laden, but the answer would not change very much. The question of what his listeners are going to do in response to this reminder of mortality is so much more important. So when I am answering difficult questions, in the back of my mind I am thinking, “What do they most need out of this discussion?” The answer is inevitably Jesus. So my next question to myself is, “How does what they are asking, relate to Jesus?” As I am asking this question of myself I am praying, “Father, please help me to Name Jesus in a natural way in this conversation”
Jesus is prepared to alienate
Jesus’ pastoral response to these two disasters is very surprising. In effect it is: you are going to die too, then you will face judgment, that is bad news as you are sinners, so repent. Apologetics is the theological term for whenever someone defends the truth about Jesus in the face of challenges. It is a very important area, but it has some pitfalls (more of that in another post). One pitfall is the desire to make the truth sound reasonable. That isn’t a bad aim. Paul tells us that the god of this age (Satan) has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they will not see Jesus (2 Cor 4.4). One of Satan’s tricks is to take God’s truth and make it seem unreasonable (see Genesis 3). So it is right to expose his lies. However, there is a temptation in apologetics to gloss over the hard challenges of the gospel. The gospel is always rational, but it isn’t therefore easy. In our apologetics, we must be unapologetic for the gospel’s challenge, even as we try to present it in a winsome way.