Sermon text here
This week’s song: With Peace Like A River (It Is Well) by the Loverlies
I suspect that some may consider it inappropriate or insensitive to read this sermon, in light of the recent tragedies that have been in the news, both the senseless shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and the little boy who was tragically killed on what should have been a dream vacation, to visit Disney World, by an alligator. Even now as I write this, the news has just broken that Anton Yelchin, the young actor who played Pavel Chekov in the newest Star Trek movies, was killed as the result of what appears to be some kind of auto accident. Wait, you might say, for healing to happen before reading this sermon.
I disagree. I cannot think of a more appropriate time for this to be brought to the forefront. After all, as I hope was made clear in the course of reading the sermon, Charles Spurgeon did not wait until all was calm and death could be viewed dispassionately to preach this topic. In the weeks prior to his preaching it, not one but two terrible railway accidents had claimed many lives very suddenly. And of course, as this was in 1861, across the ocean a terrible war was just starting to begin, one that would claim countless lives and spill much blood. Yet we can’t look at this and just point directly from Sin A to Punishment B so simply. Death is judgment for sin—but it is a judgment upon us all, because sin is an infection in this world and death is the only method by which it is expunged.
But as Christians, we cannot let ourselves be so haughty as to look at the suffering and pain and loss occurring in a place like Orlando and say “Well, they were engaged in sin, so we can call it judgment and move on.” No, we are not able to because we must walk and speak in such a manner that is consistent with the message of the Gospel of Christ. The truth is that just as easily as that man brought his weapons to a gay nightclub, he just as easily could have brought them to a mall, or to a city street, or to a church. In fact, I suspect very much that I would not have to search very long before finding a story of churchgoers elsewhere slain in a similarly senseless manner.
I think there is a danger in reading the passage being preached on and thinking that Jesus is being callous about the deaths of the people being mentioned, whether those killed by Pilate’s men or those killed by the tower. No, I think it is very clear that Jesus saw death very seriously, not as some sort of fake thing that didn’t matter, but as a horrible effect of sin upon the world. He stood at the tomb of Lazarus, His friend and disciple, and wept with the mourners—and this was even knowing that He was about to bring Lazarus back to life! No, Jesus was very direct in His response to the questioners because He did not want them to start thinking that they had any kind of superiority to them, or to make them turn aside from seeing their own sin compared to the righteousness of God, to instead compare it to the sin of others. Jesus has great compassion on suffering, and yet He does not stop at healing it or at sympathizing. He calls the sufferers to come to Him, to follow Him, and…to pursue more suffering in this world. Not like some kind of monastic self-flagellation, but rather to follow after Him, to give ourselves up for the sake of others, to love others as ourselves and God above all, and to remember that this world is one that will eventually end, to give way to one that never will.
This is getting a bit long but I will encourage you, if you have the patience, to take a look at the series of blog posts I have put up over the last week, as I have attempted to address the particular questions and objections that have come up in the aftermath of the Orlando shootings. Most importantly, I want to use even this horrible incident to point everyone to what matters most of all, to the cross and to the empty tomb. If you are a Christian and you are in a position to minister to a suffering person, let that knowledge that Jesus calls us to empathize with the hurting drive you to dig deep in obedience. If you are a Christian who is suffering, let the fact that Christ has passed through this road before us and now sits in glory encourage you even in your darkest hours. And if you are one who hurts and cries out but do not know Jesus, I encourage you, do not waste a moment. Stop holding on to things that will not last, stop clinging to the weight that drags you down in the deep farther, and look to Jesus and love Him.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace