The golden age of nightly news is gone, replaced with news by the minute.
Some church-goers expect pulpit commentary on galloping, non-stop headlines.
I get it. As a preacher, I’m supposed to be something of an answer guy. Besides, what spokesperson doesn’t want to share his personal insights, reveal some hidden cause for events that others have missed? I see it on Twitter all the time—one religious voice out-Christianizing another with a tweet slightly better crafted for accuracy and, of course, cleverness. The more I see it, especially as modeled by the big boy pastors, the more pressured I feel to contribute my two cents to the ever-increasing pile of copper coin.
After all, I wouldn’t want to sound like I’m outside the relevance curve.
Today’s media machine stimulates this sort of anxiety. But it isn’t a recent phenomenon. First century news traveled from one live person to the next, evoking the same sort of impulse to comment.
Such news eventually got around to finding Jesus, too.
“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices” (Luke 13:1).
The strange event mentioned here, referred to a group of Jews who had joined a populist rebellion against Rome. While they were worshiping God and offering their sacrifices at the temple, Pontius Pilate’s forces had come upon them and killed them. Thus, during the police action, their blood and the blood of their sacrifices had been violently mingled.
If there had been an ancient press at that time, it would certainly have made the rounds, interviewing all the pertinent sources about the event.
What do you think about the recent altercation at the temple?
Zealots, fierce Jewish nationalists, would detail the hostile attitudes of Roman leadership, the unjust tactics utilized, applaud those who perished as heroic martyrs of the cause, and demand an overthrow of local authority.
Pharisees, the religious legalists, would expound on how the outrageous, sinful conduct of gentile rulers should not come as no surprise, and besides, those who had been killed had probably somehow offended God.
The Sadducees, religious compromisers, would have gone on record defending Rome and excusing Pilate, while blaming those who perished as troublemakers who got what they deserved.
Had you lived during the time, you probably would have preferred one of these three narratives, while finding the other two abhorrent.
But what did Jesus say when these headlines reached Him?
“He 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. 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’” (vv. 4-5).
Either headline would have given Jesus the chance to shine, to show off His unsurpassed prophetic insight. And this is exactly where I feel pressured to head down the rabbit trail, and satisfy the itching ears of curiosity, and outrage. Sadly, there is a part of me that would settle for hearing Amens to rhetoric, rather than heavenly mission.
Jesus, though, didn’t provide an extended commentary on the evils of world government, or the mysteries of divine sovereignty, or even just the way the world works. He used the moment to underscore His divinely appointed message—repentance unto the receiving of the gospel. Regardless of the starting point in the headlines, He saw the issue of repentance as bigger than the affairs of men, and even of life and death itself.
“Repent or perish”—hardly a tweetable quote, but utterly faithful, nonetheless.