There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “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. 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 13:1-5, NIV)
The horrific bombing in Manchester on Monday was, at one level, the kind of thing which, sadly, we should expect. People are capable of very great cruelty; false religion can produce horrific wickedness (what kind of a god did the bomber believe in?). Sin and wickedness are a reality; atrocities will happen. That is not to be complacent at all, nor is it to lack a proper sense of outrage about something so depraved. But it is to be Biblically realistic about our world.
Jesus was referring to one such atrocity in the passage above: Pilate, the Roman governor, has massacred a number of Jewish people and mixed their blood with their sacrifices - perhaps Luke puts it like this because the slaughter took place near the temple or because Pilate was cruelly mocking their religious observance. Things like this will, tragically, continue to be part of our headlines all through history.
So at a general level, such attacks are to be expected. But at an individual level they are not. Part of the horror of recent terrorist outrages has been the sheer unexpectedness of them: people shopping in a German Christmas market, crossing Westminster Bridge, going to a concert at the Manchester Arena. None of the victims had the slightest idea what was coming. There is no way they could have known. It could have been any of us.
How, then, can we be ready, in a world which has horrors like this? We should not be cowed (as the terrorists desire) into paranoia, or driven to hatred. But these outrages do remind us that none of us know the day of our death, and the only way really to be ready is to be ready to die.
This is the point that Jesus is making as he draws lessons from Pilate’s atrocity, and also a more “natural” disaster - the collapse of a tower. In both cases the victims were just ordinary people, no worse than anyone else. But the sudden, surprising nature of their deaths Jesus takes as a warning to us that each of us needs to be ready. He tells us that unless we repent, each of us will perish. By this he means all that follows from meeting our Maker unprepared. He tells us this because he came that we might be prepared, through trusting him.
Please join me in praying for the bereaved in this atrocity, and that more people will hear the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ, our only hope.
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