Why do bad things happen to good people? Jesus had a surprising answer to that question.

August 10-11, 2019
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Summer Bible Series
Luke 13:1-5 (p. 896)


ILL: When I ride my motorcycle, the bike tends to go where I’m looking.  If I’m staring at a beautiful scene off to my right, the bike drifts right.  If I’m looking at an obstacle in the road, I’m more likely to hit it. You look where you want to go.  The bike follows your eyes.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to correct after looking away.  Steering my bike is a constant series of small corrections. Occasionally, a U-turn is required—I’m going the wrong way!  But most of the time its hundreds of small corrections to stay on the road.

Following Jesus is like this: it’s a life of repentance, of making changes, large and small.  Today we’re going to talk about what it means to repent. It’s good!

Introduction and offering:

This Mission Interview

  • What is This Mission? What is your mission? 
  • Tell us about this summer, what did you guys do? 
  • How did you guys get started in This Mission?
  • What are some of the trips you have funded or some stories from them?
  • Tell us how we could get involved/support you

This is the Summer Bible Series and we’re working our way through the gospel of Luke.  Let’s dive in.

Luke 13:1–5 (p. 896)

1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” 

Someone asks Jesus about a current event: Pilate had recently killed some Galileans while they were in Jerusalem worshiping, mixing their blood with their sacrifices.  We don’t have any other information about this event—no other historians mention it. But we do know that Pilate did not get along with his Jewish subjects, and on more than one occasion reacted with unnecessary force and bloodshed, and was removed by Roman authorities in 36 AD.  

This event was an outrage—what did Jesus think of it?  In His answer, Jesus brings up a second current event. A tower had recently collapsed and killed 18 people.  One a political tragedy, the other an accidental tragedy.  

Jesus responds to these tragedies by making two points.  First, these people didn’t die because they were worse sinners than others—Jesus was challenging the prevalent theology of suffering.  Second, you need to repent or you will perish too—Jesus insisted that everyone must repent because everyone sins. We’re going to talk about those two things—points 1 and 2 on your outline.  We won’t get to 3 and 4 today.  


  1. A theology of suffering.

First, Jesus corrects the prevalent theology of suffering. The prevalent theology in Jesus’ day (and it’s still popular today) was that you got what you deserved.  

      • If you were suffering, you must have done something bad to deserve it.  
      • If you were doing well, you must have done something good to deserve it.
      • If you were rich, you must be righteous and God was blessing you.  
      • If you were poor, you were being punished for your sins.  
      • If you were sick, you had done something to bring it on yourself.  

For example, look at:

John 9:1–3 (p. 921)

1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 

3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Jesus’ disciples assumed that the man had been born blind because of sin—either his sin or his parents’ sin—although one has to wonder what sin he could have committed in the womb!  The disciples were expressing the prevalent theology of the day: simple cause and effect. Karma. You’re blind—it’s your fault. You must have sinned. You did something bad to deserve this.  

What was Jesus’ answer?  “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.”  Jesus rejected the prevalent theology of suffering.  The man wasn’t being punished for some sin by him or his parents.  Instead, Jesus said, his blindness was an opportunity for God to work. Where others saw an opportunity to assign blame, Jesus saw an opportunity for God to work, to do good.  Here’s a great thought: What if instead of trying to assign blame—whose fault is this?—we tried to discern what God wanted to do and worked with Him for a solution!  

ILL: Next time you’re in the Commons, look up.  You’ll see two big ass fans spinning. That’s actually the name of the company: Big Ass Fans.  These huge fans slowly move the air and create even temps, top to bottom.  Ever since we moved in here, it’s been hot on the mezzanine and cool on the floor.  These fans fix that, and they will pay for themselves in a couple years. We should have done this years ago.  

But there was a problem with the install—a wrong part—and it took a few weeks to get the part and get the fans going.  I asked Paul Miller, “Whose fault was that?” Paul said it was mostly our fault. Then he told me what we were doing to fix it.  I felt convicted: I wanted to assign blame, Paul wanted to fix the problem.   

Jesus is more like Paul.  Jesus rejected the idea that the man’s blindness could be blamed on his sin or his parents, and instead said his blindness was an opportunity for God to work.  I want to be more like Jesus…and Paul.

This theology that said if you’re suffering, you must have sinned, is most fully expressed in the OT book of Job.  Job experienced a series of disasters, losing his flocks and herds, his crops, his family and finally his health. One Catastrophe after another!  His friends gathered to comfort him, and what was their comfort? “What did you do, Job, to deserve this? You must have sinned. Own up.” From Job 4-38, when God finally speaks, Job’s four friends repeat the same refrain like a broken record—“You must have sinned”—while Job steadfastly maintained his innocence.  The whole story was written to answer the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good people suffer?” And the answer is…Job leaves us hanging.

The real answer is, not surprisingly, a little more complex.  

First, I can suffer because of my actions.  Is there such a thing as cause and effect?  Yes.  

      • Positively: If I work hard and smart, I succeed.  If I save, I have money. If I exercise, I feel good.
      • Negatively: If I drive too fast, I get a ticket.  If I don’t get enough rest, I get sick. If I’m mean, I lose friends.  Mean people suck!    

So can suffering be my fault, the result of my choices?  Yes. But that’s far from the whole story.

Second, I can suffer because of your actions.  Innocent people can suffer because of the sin of others.  For example, the people who were killed or wounded in the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton last weekend—these people did nothing to deserve this.  It was entirely the fault of the shooter—his sin, not theirs. Yet they and their loved ones suffered.

I can suffer because of my actions, your actions, and…

Third, I can suffer because I live in a fallen world.  This is the cumulative effect of human sin on all of us.  The world—both the natural world that we live in, and the social order we’ve created—is fallen and broken by human sin.  And in that broken world, undeserved tragedies befall people. An oppressive government murders its citizens. A tower collapses.  A good person gets cancer. The apostle Paul discusses this in:

Romans 8:18–23 (p. 972) 

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

Our world is frustrated, in bondage to death and decay, and groaning in eager expectation for its release.  When Jesus comes, He will create a new heavens and a new earth where righteousness reigns. He will put right all that has been wrecked and ruined by human sin.  

Revelation 21:1–4 

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

We pray, “Come Lord Jesus.  Come and put all that is wrong with us and our world right again!”  

So first, Jesus refutes the prevailing theology of suffering.  These people didn’t die because they deserved it more than others, they were worse sinners than others.  No. Let’s get rid of that over-simplified theology of suffering.  

And instead of assigning blame to others—“You must be a worse sinner than me”—Jesus calls us to repent of our own sin.  

  1. A call to repent.

Twice Jesus says, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  In other words, Jesus moved the issue from “those people” to “me.” I’m much more comfortable talking about your sin than mine.  

Sin is the disease that we all suffer from, but we feel our neighbor’s case is far more advanced than ours and ours is on the verge of being cured.

Sin?  That’s more your problem than mine.  But Jesus moved the issue from “those people” to “me.”  “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  Jesus corrected their theology of suffering, and then turned the tables and called them all to repent.  All of us are sinners and we’re all going to perish—unless we repent.

Quick review.  Sin is any rebellion against God, any failure to do what He wants.  It is any shortcoming that misses the mark of God’s glory and perfection.  It is any transgression of His will. So how many are sinners? All of us! We’re all sinners; we’re all guilty; we all fall short. 

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

This is the universal human condition, and Jesus reinforces that here.  Those who suffered were not worse sinners—we’re all sinners and we’ll all perish unless we repent.  It’s the same all in both passages—all of us!

ILL: On April 13, 2001, Luther Casteel walked into JB’s Pub in Elgin, Illinois, with four guns and opened fire. He killed two people and wounded 16 others. At his trial, Casteel was unrepentant. He blamed the bartenders for giving him too much alcohol and kicking him out of the bar.  When asked if he felt any remorse, Casteel said, “Any feelings I have in that regard, I’ll keep between myself and the Lord.” He also said, “As ironic as this sounds, I’m a passionate, giving person. I like to think I’m a pretty good person. I’m not one to hurt anyone that doesn’t provoke me.” 

How many think he’s a pretty good person?  I’ve discovered that I can be a pretty good person too—as long as I’m not provoked…as long as I get my way.  Here’s the reality that Jesus is driving home: those people Pilate killed, those people the tower fell on, Luther Casteel—they aren’t worse sinners than us.  We’re all sinners and we all perish unless we repent.

Which leads to the next important idea: the punishment for sin is death.  The Bible says consistently that the person who sins will die.  

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death…

When I lived in Eugene, there was a billboard along the freeway with this verse: “The wages of sin is death.”  Period. It drove me crazy because there’s more to that verse—that’s what the ellipsis means—hang on! The wages of sin is death.  Jesus said: unless you repent, you will all perish. That word “perish” is used in another famous verse:

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Here is the human problem: we have all sinned and the penalty for sin is death.  We are perishing. And here is God’s solution: God loved us so much that He gave His Son that we should not perish but have eternal life.  So here’s the full verse:

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You sin, you perish.  But God has provided a way out through Jesus—if you believe, if you repent, God’s gift is eternal life.  End of review.

So Jesus issues a clear call to repent.  What does it mean to repent? The Greek word was literally, “a change of mind” that resulted in a change of behavior.  I realize that what I’m thinking and doing is wrong, and I change it. Specifically, what I’m thinking about God and my behavior toward Him is wrong.  I realize that He is God and I am not. He is righteous and I am not. He is Lord and I am not. This is a big change!  

Repentance means change, a turn.  I turn away from my sin and I turn toward God.  I was running away from God and toward my own selfishness.  I do a 180 and start running toward God and away from my selfishness. 

ILL:  Wabush is a small town in a remote portion of Labrador, Canada.  It was completely isolated until a road was cut through the wilderness to reach it. Then Wabush had one road leading into it, and only one road leading out. If you traveled the unpaved road for six to eight hours to get into Wabush, there was only one way you could leave–by turning around.  There’s no other way out of town.

We’re all sinners who are perishing, and there’s only one way out of town: do a 180; turn from your sin and toward God. 

Here are two very important ideas about repentance.

First, you must repent to become a Christian.  It’s impossible to become a Christian without repenting.  

ILL: I became a Christian when I was 13.  A buddy from school knocked on my door and invited me to a youth rally at his church.  I didn’t want to go, but didn’t want to disappoint him so I said yes. I went and was ambushed by Jesus.  I heard a message that got my attention and made me pray on my way home, “Lord, I don’t know much about you, but I know that I want what that guy has.  Here’s my life.” I woke up the next morning, Sunday, and I knew that Christians went to church, so I hiked back down to that church. The next week, my friends at school started asking me, “What happened to you?  You’re different.” I didn’t have vocabulary to describe it, so I said, “I’m religious now.” Gag! I’m not religious, I’m alive!  

So what was different about me?  What did my friends see? Back then, I knew that Christians didn’t smoke, drink, swear, lie or steal—the Big Five.  I stopped doing those things immediately and my friends noticed. “You’re different.” I had repented. I had turned from my sins and turned toward God.  It turned out, those weren’t my only sins. As the Lord made me aware of others, I continued to repent. But I started there.

You can’t become a Christian without repenting.  Let me show you how essential repentance is to becoming a follower of Jesus.

Mark 1:15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Mark 6:12 They went out and preached that people should repent.

Luke 5:32 “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Luke 24:47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 26:20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Revelation 3:19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.

You can’t become a Christian without repenting any more than you can without believing.  It’s essential. 

Picture this: Jesus calls you to follow.  We said last week that there is no neutrality.  You either say yes or no. When you say yes to Jesus, that means you must stop going your own way and go His.  You turn to Him and follow. You turn from your way to His. Repentance is a radical reorientation of your life around Jesus.  

Another picture: the basic Christian confession is “Jesus is Lord.”  When you become a Christian, Jesus is Lord of your life—you are not your own any more.  You are not your own Lord—Jesus is. You turn. You turn from being your own Lord to Jesus as Lord.  Repentance is a radical reorientation of your life around Jesus.  

I’ve known people who tried to follow Jesus and still go their own way.  It doesn’t work. I’m not saying that you have to be perfect to follow Jesus—far from it.  But I am saying that you have to sincerely want to change, want to follow Him, want Him to be Lord.  You can’t just add Jesus to your life like a lucky religious charm—I wear a cross but do whatever I want.  You must repent. You must honestly turn from your sin to Him. 

First, you must repent to become a Christian.   

Second, you must keep repenting to be a Christian.  I know that some of my Christian friends would disagree with this statement, but hear me out.  How many of you have sinned since you started following Jesus? Today? Yesterday? I’ve discovered that repentance is actually a lifestyle, that I’m constantly turning from my sin to God.  I’m constantly changing my mind and behavior. It’s not something I just do once when I come to Jesus. I’m correcting back to Jesus—over and over. Sometimes they are big corrections—another U-turn.

ILL: I told you that as the Lord made me aware of sin in my life, I continued to repent.  About six months after meeting Jesus—I’m still 13—I was at my girlfriend’s house in the middle of the day while her parents were at work.  Not good. It wasn’t good. And suddenly, I felt God’s presence. I immediately left, and as I walked home, the Lord said, “My kids don’t do what you were doing.”  So I told the Lord I’d stop doing that—and I did. I broke up with my girlfriend, and radically changed my dating habits all through high school. I repented. It was big.

Sometimes they are big corrections and sometimes they are small, like the hundreds of small corrections I make steering my motorcycle.  A lifestyle of repentance means I’m making hundreds of small corrections back to Jesus.  

ILL: This week, I met a new friend at my grandson’s birthday party at a park.  This dear woman wandered into our party and we invited her to join us—a complete stranger!  We had some good conversation with her; it was clear that she was lonely. But after the party ended and we left, it hit me that I hadn’t invited her to church—to join us in our community where she could find friends, family—and Jesus.  Earlier in the week, I had another experience similar to this, and I thought, “Lord, I’m not paying attention. Help me to be more present, more attentive, and more inclusive.”  

A lifestyle of repentance means I’m making hundreds of small corrections back to Jesus.

There is a great line in the famous hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing:

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love.

That’s me.  I wander. Constantly.  And I’m constantly repenting, correcting back to Jesus in so many ways.  Repentance is a lifestyle of constant turning toward God.

Where do you need to repent?  

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