“WE” ARE NO DIFFERENT THAN “THEY.”
In the name + of Jesus.
If there is one thing we learn in the Scriptures, it is that God does not think and act like we do. God himself says so: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) We find those words proven in our gospel reading today.
Some people came to Jesus to ask him about one of the headline stories of the day. Some Galileans had come to Jerusalem to present their offerings at the temple. While they were in the temple performing their rituals of worship, Roman soldiers came into the temple, swords drawn, and slaughtered the worshipers right there. The people asked Jesus about these things, no doubt expecting an angry response.
One possible response the people might have expected was for Jesus to condemn the Romans. The Law stated that the Jews were not to have a foreigner ruling over them. Not only were the Romans ruling over Israel, but Pontius Pilate had even ordered the slaughter of Jesus' fellow Galileans. Certainly Jesus would unleash a tirade condemning this Gentile intrusion and violence! He did not.
Another possible response was that Jesus would condemn the Galileans. Pilate did not make it a practice to slaughter Jews for no reason. The Romans did not act unless they had to. So, it is likely that these Galileans did something to incur the wrath of Pilate, perhaps staging a protest or fomenting revolt. In that case, Jesus might have said, “What did you expect when fools incite rebellion and insurrection? Lawless people deserve to be crushed. They got what they had coming.” Jesus did not say that, either.
God's thoughts are not our thoughts. God's ways are not our ways. Jesus turned the tables on the people and 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.” (Luke 13:2-3) Jesus highlighted: “We” are no different from “they.” Jesus
Then Jesus doubled down on them. He noted another headline event: “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) This one was not a violent act of men; it was a tragic accident. Why did it happen? Why were those 18 people killed? What did they do to deserve that? Jesus tells us, “We” are no better than “they.” The point is not to wonder what someone did to deserve a tragic or violent death. The point is that we are all sinners, and one way or another, we are all going to die because of it. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:22,23) Therefore, no one deserves anything good from God. Our confession of sin is not empty words (or it shouldn't be): Because of my sins, “I deserve your punishment both now and in eternity.” That is true,, no matter what. Some people's sins are newsworthy; most are not. “We” are no different than “they.” The Lord assures you: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5)
God's thoughts are not our thoughts. His judgment is perfect; ours is biased. We tend to think that we are spared serious problems because we are better or because God likes us more. Our judgment says: “I'm sure that God likes me, because I like me,” or, “God must like my friends because I like my friends.” This assumes our judgment is God's judgment, and that is idolatry. It is also dangerous because if you think that you have been spared problems because you are good in God's eyes, what must you conclude when you have problems or suffer tragedy? That God no longer loves you? That God is getting back at you for something you did?
God does not work by karma. Karma is a lie, and it is based on flawed judgment. God's ways are not our ways. God does not pay tit-for-tat, granting a blessing for a good deed and inflicting pain for each sin committed. If God did work by karma, we would all have been slain a long time ago. Therefore, you cannot draw any conclusions based on how someone suffers or on how they succeed. Were those Galileans sinners? Sure. Were those 18 who were crushed by the Tower of Siloam sinners? Sure. So were the people killed in Kalamazoo and the entire Fenton Twp. family who died from carbon monoxide poisoning. But “we” are no different than “they.” This is the only conclusion God allows you to draw when you see people suffer from violence and disaster: The world is sinful and so are the people in it, and unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:5)
If there is no difference between “we” and “they” because all are sinners, then rejoice in this: Jesus Christ came into the world for sinners. Jesus does not waste his time sifting through the world to distinguish the good sinners from the bad sinners. With our biased judgment, we try to determine who has done more good and more bad, and we assume we have scored better than most. But there is no difference. All have sinned. (Romans 3:22,23) Therefore, everyone scores the same. There is no difference between “we” and “they.” And since there is no difference, Jesus does not make any distinctions when he goes to the cross to pay the price for sinners. Jesus does not sit in heaven with a scale or an abacus to determine which of your sins are big ones and which are little. Jesus simply picks up all the sins of all people. The Lord lays on him the iniquity of us all, and Jesus presents himself as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Jesus was not like the people at the Tower in Siloam who were the hapless victims of a tragedy. Jesus went forth purposely to suffer the consequences for our sins. Nor was Jesus the rebellious Galilean who got what he deserved at the hands of violent Roman soldiers. Rather, Jesus got what we deserve He paid the price for ours sinful rebellion. Jesus bore the guilt of all sinners; therefore, he was also held responsible for them. Jesus was convicted as a wretched sinner and was put to death under God's curse accordingly. Since our iniquities were upon him, they have been removed from us. And so, we are now blameless before God.
Still, “we” are no different than “they.” We are not saved because we are better, or smarter, or more appealing to God. In man's judgment, God rewards those who are better. But God's thoughts are not our thoughts, and God's ways are not our ways. God's salvation is not a reward for people who are better. It is that that you are better; it is that you are forgiven. And that is God's doing. That is why even though we are saved, “we” are no different than “they.”
God's salvation is by grace—God's doing from beginning to end. Even the fruit he seeks from us is his work in us and through us. Our works are not better, as if my dollar to charity does more than an unbeliever's dollar to charity. The courtesy you show when you hold the door for someone is not better courtesy than someone else who does the same thing. In that respect, “we” are no different than “they.”
But your works are delightful to God because Jesus has purified them. And your deeds are pure because Jesus has made you pure. So, your comfort and your confidence cannot be because you are better. Your comfort is that God is gracious. Your confidence is that Jesus has forgiven you of all guilt and iniquity. Your joy is that God's ways are much better than our ways; for his ways assure us of salvation.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.