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"About that time some people came up and told Him about the Galileans Pilate had killed while they were at worship, mixing their blood with the blood of the sacrifices on the altar. Jesus responded, 'Do you think those murdered Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans. Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you too will die." Luke 13:1-3 (The Message).
Can you catch the atmosphere of this conversation? Perhaps those who were reporting the incident were expecting an outburst of outrage from Jesus against Pilate's bloodthirsty cruelty. They would have revelled in seeing His reaction and felt justified for bringing Him the news. They thought that He would have joined with them in condemning Pilate's action.
What they did not expect was Jesus' sober and non-theatrical response, turning the tables on them by putting them right in the picture. It was not about Pilate, or those he had murdered, but it was about them. They were in no position to condemn Pilate when they were equally guilty of a life of sin that would kill them if they did not repent.
Jesus made it clear that God does not grade sin when it comes to our eternal destiny. There are no such things as big sins and small sins. Everything that falls short of God's perfection is sin. God even sees the imperfections of our physical bodies as 'sin' because that is not what He created in the beginning - hence the laws in the Old Testament that made provision for diseases, deformities and the shedding of blood. Anything imperfect was called 'unclean' - tamai - and required a sacrifice once cleansing had been established.
The fact that people died an unnatural death at the hands of a tyrant was no proof that they were worse sinners than anyone else. It only revealed the decision of an evil person in an evil world. God is so often blamed for the bad things that happen to us as though He were responsible for the choices we make and the consequences of those choices.
"The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth He has given to man." Psalm 115:16 (NIV). God gave us human beings the task of governing the earth from the beginning, with the understanding that He would set the standards by which to rule since it is His world. Adam chose to reject God's authority and set up his own standards under the devil's influence. God did not withdraw His mandate but He does hold us responsible for what we do with it. Hence responsibility brings with it accountability to our Creator and irresponsibility, punishment.
There are no degrees of falling short; we can miss God's perfection by an inch or a mile; it's all the same. Missing the mark will bring retribution - that's what Jesus was getting at. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, the Galileans who died at the hands of Pilate - they were all guilty. They all fell short and did not avail themselves of the mercy God invited them to receive through the death of His Son.
Comparing ourselves with those we consider worse than us does not absolve us of our guilt. It only reveals our foolishness in believing that we can somehow get past God's perfect justice. God does not act arbitrarily. His justice is perfectly just because He leaves us to choose.
"And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." 1 John 5:11,12 (NIV). God has extended an unconditional invitation to everyone to choose life based on His mercy. If we receive it, we have eternal life. If we reject it, we will experience the eternal hell He warned us about.
The choice is ours.
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