In the wake of last week’s horrific shooting, the popular slogan “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” no longer applies. What happened in Vegas has spilled out into the streets, spread across social media platforms, and shocked other states of the Union and beyond.
As with any tragedy of this magnitude, there are so many questions, yet so few (true and good) answers. Taking to twitter and social media, both religious and political leaders responded with tidbits of advice and expressions of outpoured emotion. Still, the hard questions remain: Where was God on October 1? Why do things like this keep happening? Who is to blame? What were the shooter’s motives? Where do we draw the line?
True and good answers are available, yet they are not well-suited for twitter.
On at least one occasion during his ministry, Jesus was asked to share his thoughts on a horrific tragedy involving the massacre of worshipers at Jerusalem. (Luke 13:1ff)
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.
Not only was this a hyper-sensitive matter involving the violent clash of politics and religion. It was personally relevant to Jesus. Those who told Jesus about Pilate’s violent actions were not just informing him of the daily news. They were trying to warn him about the serious dangers of traveling to Jerusalem, especially during a festival, especially since he was also a Galilean. At least some of his followers hoped that sharing news of this violent massacre would deter Jesus from making the same mistakes his fellow Galileans made.
Shortly before this exchange Luke had reported that Jesus had resolutely set out for Jerusalem. This he did right after predicting — twice! — his own suffering and death at the hands of religious and political leaders. (see Luke 9)
Jesus’s response to the breaking news is as shocking now as it was then:
Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
And to make sure everyone heard him loud and clear and got his point, Jesus mentioned another tragic event from the news:
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? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
In response to tragedy and calamity Jesus says, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.” What in the world does that mean?
On the surface it seems that Jesus held an existentially cold and aloof view of human tragedy. In reality, the gospel story shows that Jesus felt the pains and sorrows of human tragedy so deeply that he entered our story as the God-man, not only to show us the way out of them, but also to set things right in the world.
In this particular story Jesus warns that repentance is the escape route from destruction to salvation. Tom Wright’s eschatological interpretation of this story shines light in a dark place:
Jesus is making it making it clear to those who refuse his summons to change direction, to abandon the crazy flight into national rebellion against Rome, will suffer the consequences [in this life]. Those who take the sword will perish with the sword. Or, if not the sword, they will be crushed by buildings in Jerusalem as the siege brings them crashing down. (Luke for Everyone, p 163)
Sadly, only a few years after Jesus uttered this prophetic warning, all these things came to pass. Rather than repent and believe the good news and follow the way of the cross, the Jewish people followed their own way and broke out and revolted against Imperial Rome. And Rome responded with extreme military prejudice. Swords were drawn, blood was spilled, stones were busted, and buildings were smashed. Because of their stubborn refusal to repent — to turn and trust Jesus as the Christ — their whole world came to a bloody and fiery end. They perished not only in this life, but also in the life to come, just as Jesus had forewarned them.
What does this have to do with Las Vegas and us?
The prophetic warnings uttered by Jesus apply to each and every one of us. We may weep, lament, and mourn over breaking news of terrible world conditions. We may be shocked and sickened by the senseless violence and bloodshed in our cities and other countries. But we must not stop there. Worldly sorrow is natural and leads to regret and death. Godly sorrow is a grace that leads to repentance and life.
Mass shootings, religious persecution, and construction accidents are terrible tragedies that affect us all. But take it from Jesus, far worse things than these await unrepentant sinners in the world to come.
The good news is that Jesus is the true and better Galilean —
who suffered under Pontius Pilate in order to spare us from suffering,
whose blood was mingled with his sacrifice in order to save us from our sins,
who was crushed under the weight of divine judgment in order to deliver us from evil,
who perished in the hell of the cross to keep us from crossing over to perish in hell.
By “us” it is meant we who practice repentance in obedience to the command of the Lord Jesus Christ. We invite you to take your place with us by turning from your sins and trusting in the Savior.
Today, he sets before you life and death, blessings and curses.
Now choose life, so that you and your children may live, and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him, for the Lord is your life.