How to Profit Spiritually from Calamities

October 25, 2009 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos


Let me begin this study by reading a summary of the effect of the recent storm and typhoons that hit our country.   GMANews.TV - Saturday, October 24 Based on the latest count of the National Disaster Coordinating Center (NDCC), Tropical Storm Ondoy and Typhoon Pepeng left a total of 929 confirmed deaths, 736 injured, and 84 missing. Ondoy dumped record-breaking rainfall in Metro Manila and nearby provinces on Sept. 26, inundating plenty of villages that rendered tens thousands of people homeless, left 464 dead, 529 injured and 37 missing. Pepeng slammed into Cagayan province on Oct. 3, destroying crops and properties. As if that were not enough, it returned twice to northern Luzon, dumping nonstop rain that unleashed landslides and caused widespread flooding. The NDCC’s latest count placed Pepeng’s death toll at 465, mostly from landslides in Baguio, Benguet and Mountain Province. Pagasa weather bureau chief Nathaniel Cruz… earlier said that even though Ramil has not directly crossed northern Luzon as earlier forecast, it has battered parts of the Cagayan province with strong winds and rains in the past few days. Its effect had also been felt largely in the Calayan, Babuyan and Batanes island groups in extreme northern Philippines.   Most Filipinos in our country and in the world have only become aware of these calamities and casualties in the safe distance and comforts of their homes via radio, television, newspaper, internet, SMS, etc.   Though many of us Filipinos were not directly affected by these disasters, we were moved to pity which led to our sending of relief to those affected. Many joined the thousands, if not millions, in offering prayers for our country and countrymen. Others were even willing to forgo of extravagances and festivities of special occasions in their lives to empathize with those who suffered. For example, Senator Mar Roxas and newscaster and TV personality Korina Sanchez decided to forgo of the expensive reception after their wedding and instead donate the money to the victims.   These emotions and actions are all good but we can be certain that after a few more days, most Filipinos, except perhaps those who have been greatly ravaged by the fury of Ondoy and Pepeng, will return to their businesses as usual. Thanks to one of the positive trait of Filipinos which is resilience—the ability to recover readily or quickly from adversity. Because of this, many will miss applying the spiritual lesson that God is teaching us.   And so this is what I intend to do today: to direct your attention to this incident while it is quite fresh in our memories so that we can profit from it spiritually.   The particular subject that I want to share this morning is this: How we can profit spiritually from calamities that have not directly affected us according to Jesus in Luke 13:1-5?   Before answering this, let me first give my observations on Luke 13:1-5:

I.           Some observations on this passage.

A.  First, the question that the people told to Jesus was triggered by His teaching in the previous chapter (Luke 12).

  Luke 13:1 tells us who inquired: “There were some present at that very time.” Dr. Luke did not mention specifically who these people were, but he tells us what they told or asked Jesus. Luke 13:1  There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.   Why did they suddenly bring this incident to the attention of Christ? I don't think it was because Jesus did not know about this. I think that the news of Pilates slaying of the Galileans and the mingling of their blood with the sacrifices had spread like wildfire. Everybody knew about it. Those who told Jesus about this incident were moved to ask him because of what Jesus had been teaching in the previous chapter, Luke 12. Here are the things Jesus taught them:   He warned people of hypocrisy and future judgment (12:1-3) He talked about being afraid of God who has authority both to kill and cast into hell rather being afraid of men who could only destroy the body. (12:4-7) He talked about not being ashamed of Jesus and not blaspheming the Spirit because it will affect their final destiny. (12:8-12) He talked about guarding against love of money and impressed on them the uncertainty of life (12:13-21). He talked about not worrying in this life and instead trusting in God for their needs. (12:22-34) He talked about being ready for His return (12:35-48) He reminds them about the cost of discipleship: homes could be divided because of Christ. (12:49-53) He tells them to be discerning of the times (12:54-56) At the end of chapter 12, Jesus warns them to settle their case with God before God before they ever get to the judgment because when they get before God at the judgment, it's going to be too late, they’re going to be turned over to eternal punishment." (12:57-59).   So that is what Jesus had been talking about. Most of his message was about future judgment, hell, His second coming, discerning the times and the need to be in right standing with God before it’s too late. These could have struck the interest of these people and when they remembered the recent incident at the Temple, they could not help raise the question in light of Christ’s teaching.   I think their question went something like this: "What about those Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices?  How does that fit in to God's judgment? Is that the judgment of God? Was it because they were hypocrites? Was it because they were the worst sinners that’s why this horrible thing happened to them?”   That's most probably the question in their mind although Luke does not give us the details. I think it was a question because when Jesus responded it was an answer: Luke 13:2a  And he answered them. And I think that the question came from some preconceived idea that was prevailing at that time that when really bad things happen to a person, it is because he is such a great sinner. ("Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?)  

B.  Second observation: the tragedies did not affect them personally and directly.

Christ and His listeners only heard about the tragedy. They were not there at the Temple to witness the massacre. Maybe none of Christ’s listeners were even related to the victims. The horrible incident had happened far away from where Jesus and his listeners were.  

C.  Third observation: There are two kinds of disasters mentioned here:

  1. The first was a horrible disaster due to a massacre.
  Luke 13:1  There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.   This incident is unknown in secular history, but having people killed while offering sacrifices in the temple fits the reputation of Pilate. The portrayal of Pilate in this passage is in keeping with what we learn from secular historians like Josephus and Philo. These Galileans may have broken an important Roman regulation, which led to their bloody punishment.   Some Bible teachers suggest this theory:   We learn from Josephus, a Jewish historian, that the Galileans, in the time of Christ, were very wicked and that they were often involved in riots and seditions. We learn also that Galileans were under Herod’s jurisdiction. Pilate had no authority over them for he was the Roman governor of Judea. According to Luke 23:12 Pilate and Herod had a quarrel with each other, and it is possible that Pilate might feel a particular enmity to the subjects of Herod. As Galileans kept the great feasts at Jerusalem, some of them probably excited a tumult in the temple, and Pilate, who was a mortal enemy to Herod, took occasion to come suddenly upon them, and show his opposition to them and Herod by slaying them.  
  1. The second was the unexpected disaster. Accidents and calamities could fall under this category.
Luke 13:4  Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them.   This incident is likewise unknown. Perhaps this occurred during the construction of the tower. Maybe a horse that was tethered to a column or post that was part of the tower pulled the column which caused the tower to fall on 18 people. No one really knows. You would call this an accident. It was totally unexpected. And as I said, calamities could also fall under this category.   Spurgeon: Jesus took occasion to make a practical use of that fact, and to warn them of their own danger. The Lord never allowed a suitable occasion to pass without warning the wicked, and entreating them to forsake their evil ways and turn to God.  

II.       What does Christ want us to do when disasters that do not directly affect us occur?

  1. Let us not improperly use these disasters and similar events.
  2. Let us evaluate our lives and repent of our sins.
  3. Let us be warned of future judgment.

A. First, Jesus wants us not to make an improper use of these disasters and similar events:

Luke 13:2  And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?  3  No, I tell you… Luke 13:4-5  Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?  5  No, I tell you…   The following are mostly taken from Spurgeon and with some of my additional notes:   From the answer of Jesus, it appears that “they” supposed that the Galileans “deserved” it. They may have thought that though Pilate was unjust in killing them, yet without doubt they were secretly bad men, or else God would not have permitted Pilate to barbarously murder them.   We do not deny but what there have sometimes been direct and immediate judgments of God upon particular persons for sin. (E.g. Herod in Ac 12:22-23). And there are also what may be called natural judgments. These are the natural results of sin. (Gal 6:7-8; sluggards-Pr 6:9-10; adulterers-Pr 6:27-35; drunkards-Pr 23:29-35)   But in cases of accidents and in cases of sudden and instant death to a number of people at the same time, I say, I enter my earnest protest against the foolish and ridiculous idea that those who thus perish are sinners above all the sinners who survive unharmed.   It has been most absurdly stated that those who travel on the first day of the week and meet with an accident, ought to regard that accident as being a judgment from God upon them on account of their violating the Christian’s day of worship. It has been stated even by godly ministers, that the late deplorable collision should be looked upon as an exceedingly wonderful and remarkable visitation of the wrath of God against those unhappy persons who happened to be in the Clayton tunnel.   To all those who hastily look on every calamity as a judgment I would speak in the earnest hope of setting them right.   First, this is plainly not true. Own experience and observation teach us that calamities happen both to the righteous and to the wicked? It is true, the wicked man sometimes falls dead in the street; but has not the minister fallen dead in the pulpit? It is true that a pleasure-boat, in which men were seeking their own pleasure on the Sunday, has suddenly gone down; but is it not equally true that a ship which contained none but godly men, who were bound upon an excursion to preach the gospel, has gone down too? The visible providence of God has no respect of persons; and a storm may gather around a missionary ship, quite as well as around a vessel filled with riotous sinners. (see Ps 49:16-20; 73:3-14; Job)   Secondly, the idea that whenever an accident occurs we are to look upon it as a judgment from God would make the providence of God to be, instead of a great deep, a shallow pool. Why, any child can understand the providence of God, if it be true that when there is a railway accident it is because people travel on a Sunday. But then, if such a thing be providence, if it be a providence that can be understood, manifestly it is not the Scriptural idea of providence, for in the Scripture we are always taught that God’s providence is “a great deep;”   Thirdly, such an idea encourages Phariseeism? If it were true that the worst of sinners met with accidents, it would follow as a natural converse to that proposition, that those who do not meet with accidents must be very good people, and what Pharisaical notions we thus beget and foster.   As I look for a moment upon the poor mangled bodies of those who have been so suddenly slain, my eyes find tears, but my heart does not boast, nor my lips accuse — far from me be the boastful cry, “God, I thank thee that I am not as these men are!” Nay, nay, nay, it is not the spirit of Christ, nor the spirit of Christianity. While we can thank God that we are preserved, yet we can say, “It is of thy mercy that we are not consumed,” and we must ascribe it to his grace, and to his grace alone. But we cannot suppose that there was any betterness in us, why we should be kept alive with death so near. It is only because he has had mercy, and been very long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that we should perish, but that we should come to repentance, that he has thus preserved us from going down to the grave, and kept us alive from death.   Lastly, such an idea is a very cruel and unkind one. For if this were the case, that all persons who thus meet with their death in an extraordinary and terrible manner were greater sinners than the rest, would it not be a crushing blow to bereaved survivors… Now, I defy you to whisper it in the widow’s ear. Go home to her and say, “Your husband was a worse sinner than the rest of men, therefore he died.” A little unconscious infant, which had never sinned, though, doubtless, an inheritor of Adam’s fall, is found crushed amidst the debris of the accident. Now think for a moment, what would be the infamous consequence of the supposition, that those who perished were worse than others. You would have to make it out that this unconscious infant was a worse sinner than many in the dens of infamy whose lives are yet spared. Do you not perceive that the thing is radically false.    

B. Second, Jesus commands us to repent.

Luke 13:3,5  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. … No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."  
  • Amos 4:6-10 "I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me," declares the LORD.  7  "I also withheld the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city, and send no rain on another city; one field would have rain, and the field on which it did not rain would wither;  8  so two or three cities would wander to another city to drink water, and would not be satisfied; yet you did not return to me," declares the LORD.  9  "I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me," declares the LORD.  10  "I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses, and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me," declares the LORD.
  • Psalms 83:15-18 so may you pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane!  16  Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek your name, O LORD.  17  Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever; let them perish in disgrace,  18  that they may know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth.
  What is repentance? Let us start by looking what it is not.
  1. Repentance is not simply to feel sorry or remorseful.
  • A man may be sorry, yet not repent, as a thief is sorry when he is caught, not because he stole, but because he has to pay the penalty. Hypocrites grieve only for the bitter consequence of sins. Pharaoh was more troubled for the frogs and river of blood than for his sin. True repentance feels sorrow for the offence rather than for the punishment.
  • Sproul: Repentance is not the feeling of remorse caused by a loss of blessing. This was the kind of repentance Esau exhibited (Gen 27:30-46). He was sorry not because he had sinned, but because he had lost his birthright.
    1. Repentance is not simply to make vows against sin.
Watson: A person may make vows, yet not be repentant. We see by experience what promises a person will make when he is on his sick-bed, if God should heal him again; yet he is as bad as ever. Resolutions against sin may arise from present extremity, not because sin is sinful but because it is painful. This resolution quickly vanishes.
  1. Repentance is not for practical reasons.
A person may turn away from sin not because he has received grace to see that it offends God but because it is practical. A man sees that though such a sin is pleasurable, yet it is not for his best interest. It will damage his reputation, impair his health, destroy his property. Therefore, for practical reasons, he turns away from sin.   What is genuine repentance? Genuine repentance has several ingredients:  
  1. Recognition of Sin
It is to see oneself as a sinner and nothing but a sinner. Before a man can come to Christ he must first come to himself. Take note of the repentance of the penitent thief. Luke 23:40-41  But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  41  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." A man must first recognize and consider what his sin is, and know the plague of his heart before he can be duly humbled for it.  
  1. Sorrow for Sin
True and godly repentance includes a deep remorse for having offended God.
  • Psalm 51:4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
  • Psalm 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
  • Luke 18:13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' 
  1. Confession of Sin
  1. Confession must be voluntary.
The confession of the wicked is extorted as in Achan’s sin. (Josh 7)
  1. Confession must be sincere. You make no attempts to excuse your sin or justify it.
  2. Confession must be specific.
  From L.R. Shelton, Jr. Here is where you learn to take the blame for your sins and lost condition. You can’t blame your mother, your wife, your husband, you sister, you children, your environment, or even your own helplessness, but you take the blame, and plead guilty before Him. You confess in specifics and not in generalities: “God, oh my God, I stole those goods; I took your name in vain; I lied; I cheated; I hate my mother; I hate my sister; I am the adulterer, the adulteress; I am to blame for my unbelief and for my evil nature.” You see? Sin is confessed, the heart is laid bare before God, and you take the blame before Him because you are to blame. Yes, you come like David did in Psalm 51:4, crying to God: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.”  
  1. Shame for Sin
There are those who take pride of how bad they have been before conversion. True repentance is ashamed of the offence committed against God and others. Ezra 9:6  saying: "O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.  
  1. Hatred of Sin
Ezekiel 36:31  Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. Your hatred leads to a resolve not to commit them again.  
  1. Turning from Sin
Repentance is also not just a change of mind. It includes change of actions too. Revelation 9:20  The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk,  
  1. Restitution for sin
  • Numbers 5:7 he shall confess his sin that he has committed. And he shall make full restitution for his wrong, adding a fifth to it and giving it to him to whom he did the wrong.
  • Luke 19:8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold."
  Suppose a person has wronged another in his estate and the wronged man is dead, what shall he do? Let him restore his ill-gotten goods to that man’s heirs and successors. If none of them are living, let him restore to God, that is, let him put his unjust gain into God’s treasury by relieving the poor.  
  1. Finally it is intermixed with faith.
If all you have is remorse for sin then you would end up being simply like Judas. He was deeply remorseful for what he did but he did not put his trust I Christ, who alone could save him and forgive his sin.   Someone said: “Spiritual sorrow will sink the heart if the pulley of faith does not raise it. As we much feel our sting, so we must look up to Christ our brazen serpent. That weeping is not good which blinds the eye of faith.”  

C. Jesus warns us of eternal judgment.

Christ repeats the warning twice, word for word: Luke 13:3  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. … 5  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."   Ideas from Spurgeon:   Someone will object and say that this is not true that all will die in the like manner, let us not forget that some of us may actually perish in the same identical manner. You have no reason to believe that you may not also suddenly be cut off while walking the streets. You may fall dead while eating your meals — how many have perished with the staff of life in their hands!   But before being quick to say that not all who do not repent will perish in the same manner, perhaps we should take a second look at that phrase, “likewise perish.” There are elements where the unrepentant will likewise perish:   They too will surely perish. Death is an appointment we all have to keep. (Heb 9:27 It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.)  There is no escape here for any individual.   They too will not be able to resist the time of their perishing. Bribe the physician with the largest fee, but he could not put fresh blood into your veins; pay him in masses of gold, but he could not make the pulse give another throb. There is no human that can stand against death, the irresistible conqueror of men. When it shall come to us as it did to them, it shall come with power, and none of us can resist.   They too will perish with its attending terrors. If we are not in Christ, we will die unprepared and death will be an awful and tremendous thing.   They too will perish eternally and painfully. Because Jesus knew what their real hearts were and their ultimate destiny, perhaps this is what Jesus was referring to. If you do not repent, you too are going to die and in addition to that you are going eternal damnation.  
  • John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
  • Luke 16:22-28 …The rich man also died and was buried,  23  and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.  24  And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.'  25  But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.  26  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.'  27  And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house--  28  for I have five brothers--so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.'
  • Luke 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you,  7  and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels  8  in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  9  They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,
  • Revelation 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."

Closing Thoughts

Let me close with these thoughts. I hope that those who are still tempted to make hasty judgments regarding to who have been directly affected by the calamities and those who think that they don't need to repent will be helped by these questions.   How can we say that we are not great sinners nor deserve judgment? The Bible says that we are to love the Lord will all of our hearts and love others as we love ourselves. Have we done that?   Let us probe this question by focusing the first greatest commandment which is to love the Lord with our whole hearts. Let us try to evaluate ourselves if we have really loved God by using this standard which I call the “alphabet of love for God.”  
  • acknowledge God to be the only true God (Acts 17:24-28)
  • believe God (Hebrews 11:6)
  • call on God (Jeremiah 33:3)
  • choose God (Joshua 24:15)
  • delight in God (Psalm 37:4)
  • desire God (Psalm 37:25)
  • esteem God highly (Psalm 71:19)
  • fear God (Deuteronomy 10:12)
  • glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31)
  • have fellowship with God (Genesis 1:27; 1 John 1:3)
  • honor God (Malachi 1:6)
  • hope in God (Psalm 42:5)
  • humble oneself before God (1 Peter 5:6)
  • know God (Exodus 6:7)
  • love God (Deuteronomy 6:5)
  • meditate on God (Psalm 63:6)
  • obey God (Deuteronomy 13:14)
  • please God (Colossians 1:10)
  • praise God (Psalms)
  • rejoice in God (Psalm 32:11)
  • remember God (Ecclesiastes 12:1)
  • repent before God (Acts 26:20)
  • serve God (Deuteronomy 6:13)
  • submit to God (James 4:7)
  • thank God (Psalm 106:47)
  • think about God (Romans 2:28-32)
  • trust God (Psalm 62:8)
  • walk humbly before God (Micah 6:8)
  • worship God (Psalm 95:6-7)
  • zealous for God (1 Kings 19:10)
  Additional closing words from Spurgeon:   If in outward sin others have exceeded me, are not the thoughts of my heart evil?   Instead of speculating upon their guilt, which is no business of mine, I should turn my eyes within and think upon my own transgression, for which I must personally answer before the Most High God.”   “Have we repented of my sin?” I need not be inquiring whether they have or not. The question is, “Have I?” Have I felt, through the Holy Spirit’s convincing power, the blackness and depravity of my heart? Have I been led to confess before God that I deserve his wrath? Do I hate sin? Have I learned to abhor it? Have I, through the Holy Spirit, turned away from it as from a deadly poison, and do I seek now to honor Christ my Master? Am I washed in his blood? Do I bear his likeness? Do I reflect his character? Do I seek to live to his praise? For if not, I am in as great danger as they were, and may quite as suddenly be cut off, and then where am I? I will not ask where are they?   And then, again, instead of prying into the future destiny of these unhappy men and women, how much better to ask ourselves, “Am I prepared to die?   And now I would send you away with this one thought abiding on your memories; we are dying creatures, not living creatures, and we shall soon be gone. Souls, ye know the way of salvation, ye have heard it often, hear it yet again! “He that believeth on the Lord Jesus has everlasting life.” “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.” “Believe thou with thy heart, and with thy mouth make confession.” May the Holy Ghost give the grace to do both.