It remained too horrible to imagine.
The blood of animals and of men, mingled together upon the altar. In God’s house, against God’s people — Pilate had sent his soldiers to slaughter the unsuspecting Jews like sheep, or pigeons. These Romans did not meet their victims upon the battlefield like men, but played the coward and murdered them while they prayed and offered sacrifice unarmed in the temple. The barbarity mixed with the sacrilege of this act was altogether unforgivable and unforgettable.
Why had God allowed it? some wondered. Were these Jews especially evil? And what would this great Teacher think?
Quake in Jerusalem
Jesus’s answer unnerves modern sensibilities as much as those of his original hearers.
Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:2–3)
Jesus looked away from the egregious evil of the Romans and directed his hearers’ eyes toward their own sin. No doubt his response disturbed some. No doubt it seemed insensitive to others. Without question it baffled many more. But he whose name is the Way, the Truth, and the Life did not stop there.
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? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:4–5)
The terrible calamity stood as a sobering sermon illustration with one point: You must repent, or you too will perish. They had their own towers and swords to worry about. Sin, not suffering, was the most urgent problem facing the immortal souls before him. Through his words, he looks each of us in the eye and clarifies that the world’s greatest problem — the problem he came into the world to remedy — is our sin and our guilt before (and against) a holy God, and the terrible and righteous judgment it provokes.
God for the Guilty
When we say we are “saved,” we must be clear on what we need to be saved from. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9). Are we content, as Richard Niebuhr so memorably put it, with the theology that “a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross”?
Have we grown so accustomed to the horror of sin? It is not ultimately because of coronavirus or cancer or falling towers that we die — the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). On account of sin, the heavens are shocked and appalled (Jeremiah 2:12–13). On account of sin, the wrath of God is coming (Colossians 3:5–6). On account of sin, eternal vengeance approaches with consequences that make falling towers and murderous soldiers mere parables.
This, and primarily this, is the bloody and black backdrop for the words that pierce the darkness: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). From the beginning of his ministry, he is heralded as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Here is the one who would fulfill Isaiah’s glorious prophecy:
He was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
Nails pierced him because of his people’s transgressions. Almighty wrath crushed him for their iniquities. He was chastised, that sinners might have peace. With his manifold wounds, his bride is healed.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (1 Timothy 1:15)
Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18)
This is the glorious mission of Christ: to save sinners from the wrath of God, provide forgiveness and righteousness for them, and bring them as a holy people to God, forever.
Do you know yourself to be a sinner? Is your soul sick? Are you stained with guilt? Are you miserable in yourself and know yourself to be hopeless without God?
Jesus came for you. He came not for those who are well, but for those who are sick (Mark 2:17). He came to take away guilt, wash the filthy, and replace your tattered clothes with white robes that shine so as to put the stars to shame.
Are you willing? He has removed all obstacles; the door is open. Bring your shame to him, confess your sins to him, look to Christ upon the cross, and trust in his work for sinners. It is not humble, safe, or wise to wait another moment. He does not merely invite you to come as you are — he summons you near:
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6–7)
The King demands you to come be forgiven, transformed, and prepared for an eternity with him and his people. He has made a way to come at the highest price. He has canceled the record of debt that stood against his people, with its legal demands, “nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). Why linger anymore in your sins?
And for those who have believed but have backslidden, hear the summons to return to him as well: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Come be clothed. Come be filled. Come be satisfied. Come be made whole. Come be forgiven. Come delight in an eternity with God. Whether for the first time or the hundredth, see Jesus standing, ready to forgive you:
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love, and power.