Introduction: Every time we encounter a disaster—whether it’s political (like 9/11) or natural (like Hurricane Katrina or the recent earthquake in Japan) it raises an interesting question. Why did God allow this to happen? Several years ago my wife and I visited Lisbon, Portugal. We stood within the ruins of a church destroyed in the earthquake of 1755. This was a great church building, but only the walls are now standing. Looking up, there was nothing but sky. The ceiling had collapsed on November 1, 1755, as the church was filled with worshippers, killing most of those inside. The great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 is one of the most studied events in the history of philosophy. It was a Saturday morning, but because it was November 1—All Saints’ Day on the Roman Catholic calendar—the churches were filled with people. Suddenly a massive earthquake struck, one of the greatest in recorded history. It lasted about 5 minutes and literally tore open the earth in the city centre. Many of the residents ran down to the harbor and the water receded, showing the bottom of the harbor floor littered with sunken cargo and old sunken ships. About 40 minutes later a tidal wave hit. Those on horseback had to run at full gallop to escape to higher ground, and many of them didn’t make it. After the earthquake and tsunami, fire broke out and destroyed what was left of the city. Almost every church in Lisbon was destroyed and many people began doubting the goodness of God. Philosophers say that the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 has much to do with the emergence of the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Philosophers sometimes speak of the Holocaust in the same way. Two years ago in Italy, I had a deep conversation with an old man who had lost faith in the Bible because of the rise of Hitler. In Luke 13, Jesus dealt with this subject in a simple but direct way.
1. Our Lord’s Teachings About Disasters (Luke 13:1-5). This passage describes two disasters that had recently struck Jerusalem. One was political; one was natural. There are no extra-biblical references to these two events. Notice:
- Jesus didn’t try to explain the reasons behind these twin disasters. There is a great mystery about these things that we can’t understand or explain.
- He did warn against trying to draw a tight correlation between the specific disaster and the presumed guilt of the victims. Making a false correlation is tempting to do (i.e., Japan has resisted the Christian message so a earthquake hits; an earthquake shakes California in the area known for its pornographic movie industry; the World Trade Centers were attacked because America is accepting the homosexual agenda). But Jesus warns against trying to draw these correlations. He said, “No!”
- These events seem random in nature, but are really universal because sin is universal. We live in a world in which sudden death can strike at any moment. It can strike the Christian and it can strike the non-Christian.
- Every disaster is a warning to repent! This is our Lord’s main point and He expounds on it in the parable that follows.
2. Our Lord’s Parable about Repentance (Luke 13:6-9). The window for repentance is graciously extended but is not infinite. We must seek the Lord while He may be found and call upon Him while He is near (Isaiah 55:6).
3. Our Lord’s Warning about Delay (Luke 13:22-30). This is the parable of the narrow door. Jesus warns us to enter while there’s still time. Perhaps He was thinking of Noah and the door to the ark.
4. Our Lord’s Plea for Faith (Luke 13:31-35). “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you. How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”
Conclusion: Every time we read of a natural or manmade disaster, it’s a warning to repent. It would be good to train ourselves so that whenever we hear or read of a disaster striking our world we pray, “God, grant repentance to our nation, to our world.”