The Answer Is Always “Repent”

“God doesn’t promise to make sense of things but to make good.”

Barren woman, today’s sermon at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church was for you:

Text: Luke 13:1-9

The Lord your God loves you. Have no doubt about this. Did you notice that the sermon hymn began with a quote from Ezekiel, attributed to God Himself? “‘As surely as I live,’ God said, / ‘I would not see the sinner dead.’” Singing those words to one another, we’re telling each other in so many words this simple truth: God loves you. “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked…” Believe it. This is the will of your Father for you.

That word from the Lord is the foundational truth of your story. In fact, it’s the chief plot point of the story of the whole world throughout time. If you were to sit down and tell your biography that sentence would underlay every moment recounted.

But our life-stories aren’t all ups, are they? There are many downs, for we indeed bear many crosses. How do we account for them? When faced with suffering, disaster, tragedy, how do we as Children of God respond? When a friend or family member takes his own life, or the doctor comes in with the terminal diagnosis, or a sinkhole swallows someone up, or when tsunamis, earthquakes, gunmen, or terrorists seem to rule the day, how do you, Jesus’ disciple, respond?

The answer is always “Repent.” Always. It never changes. Do you say, “But I don’t deserve this!”? “But there are worse sinners than me. Why must I suffer?” Repent. Can you honestly call yourself anything less than the chief of sinners, deserving the wrath of God? And if you say, “Just look at their sin. This is just God’s punishment,” then repent. Take the log out of your own eye that condemns you.

“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way?.. 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?” Do you think that the 27 killed in Newtown were greater transgressors? The 3000+ on September 11th? The 3000+ aborted every day?

What is our answer to these questions? The world asks for an answer, doesn’t it? It wants to know, expects to know, in fact demands to know: why does God let these things happen? Why?

We’re tempted to leap in, defend God, justify God to the world. It seems easy to do this, but then we say the wrong thing or make something up about God that sounds nice and fits our own notion of Him but perhaps isn’t really true. This is our temptation. Yet look how God Himself answers: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Not just perish as in a physical death. Perish as in spiritual, eternal, forever death. Unless you repent.

What about this question: Do you think that you are a worse sinner than all the others because you now have terminal cancer, or you miscarried, or you’re barren, or your spouse left you, or your kids have fallen away, or your job is lost? Do you think this?

The beauty of God’s answer is that it’s exactly the same. The answer is always “Repent.”

One simple word: “Repent.” What does it mean? It’s easy to think it means to “change your ways”; to “want to do better”. But God has no intent to cast His Law upon you in your moment of suffering. Repent simply means to “change your mind”; to have a different outlook, a different perspective, to “re-think”. This is what God tells us to do in light of suffering and death: recognize that death isn’t the worst that can happen to you. Jesus died and now lives. The same is true for you, trusting in your child-of-God status. Suffering isn’t your punishment, at least not spiritually from On-High. That was laid upon the suffering servant Jesus Himself, for you.

So repent, that is, “re-think”; cease the questioning of God. Why suffering? Why evil? Why did God let this happen to me? “Repent.” That’s what Jesus answers, always. The questions themselves reveal our lack of trust in God. Let us not call out “The way of the Lord is not just.” God’s response to our judgement of Him is rooted in complete fairness: “I will judge each of you according to his ways.” The worst thing is to die unbelieving, suffer unbelieving, fall asleep staring at ourselves instead of fixing our eyes on Jesus. To be fairly judged by God is the worst thing for us.

Repent. Re-think. The temptation we all face is to think of God as vengeful, of “making a list and checking it twice,” of always being ready to pay you back for your wrongdoing. Put aside the temptation to explain away God in your suffering, and know that “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” He does indeed provide the way out. It is to hear His words and believe them.

Repent. Re-think. God does not have your end in mind. “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked…” God doesn’t promise to make sense of things, but to make good. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Repent. Re-think. God doesn’t promise to handle the details of each and every disaster that comes along. He is able and willing – He doesn’t leave us in doubt about that. Throughout the Scriptures God is involved in the details. But He rather prefers to make good by sending His Son to become man and handle sin to the point of death, even death on a cross. There on the cross death’s stinger is cut away. There on the cross the grave’s seeming victory is divinely mocked for all eternity.

God’s preference is not to put you in a bubble as you walk through this valley of the shadow of death. Instead he challenges the demonic principalities and powers of this sinful world by adding His word to some water and washing clean your soul and your conscience. God confronts the ongoing accusations that the world, the devil, and even our old sinful flesh lob at Him, each other, and ourselves by speaking the Body and Blood of Jesus in, with, and under the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.

Your Baptism tells you that all the suffering in the world cannot touch you. The Holy Communion fed to you reminds you that Christ’s suffering and death are the victor over anything that will assault you, both in body and soul. In the Word and these Sacraments God provides the way of escape – namely, faith.

God works for good in everything. Faith comes in and believes this. Faith doesn’t say that cancer or a car wreck or your sin is good. Instead, it says “God will work good and has already worked good in the death of Jesus. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

This is how God bids us to think. We are all sinners. And the answer to our sin is always the same. “Repent.” Think differently, beloved. Think on Christ, who has sealed you in His promise of forgiveness for all eternity.


Rev. Michael P. Schuermann