God's Way of Reckoning
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Ezekiel 33:12-20, Luke 13:1-9
March 24, 2019

The Old Testament (Ezekiel 33:12-20) and the Gospel (Luke 13:1-9) readings for today present a clash between two different ways of reckoning. One is God’s way. The other is the natural human way. This clash arises on the most basic and important issues of human existence. These issues are our justification before God, that is, the basis upon which God regards us as righteous and acceptable to Him. They also involve why tragedies and bad events outside our control happen; why we often must cope with outcomes that are difficult and painful. Human beings may wonder how to get God or the universe on their side in order to live joyful, prosperous, blessed, and peaceful lives and to be sure that only good things happen.

As we will see, God’s way of reckoning involves grace and mercy and second chances. The natural human way of thinking involves a rudimentary sense of justice, i.e., one gets what one deserves inexorably, along with the law of cause and effect. Applied to the issues before us, the law of cause and effect says that good causes good and bad causes bad.

The law of cause and effect is a basic assumption of the modern, western view of things. I did some “Google” research, however, and was surprised to discover that the law of cause and effect is the first great law of karma in Hinduism and Buddhism. This “great law” asserts that whatever you give out is what you will receive back.

Now let me say that the law of cause and effect is a good thing when it is kept in its proper sphere. We couldn’t live without this law most of the time.

On the issues I just identified, however, this law has no authority, because this law knows nothing about grace and mercy and second chances. It knows nothing of receiving from God by faith. Human action is at the center of the human way of reckoning and not God’s operation in Law and Gospel. With respect to the issues I have identified, God’s way of reckoning and the human way of reckoning clash.

We can see this in the reading from Ezekiel 33:12-20. Through Ezekiel, the Lord says that all the righteous deeds of the righteous person won’t save him when he sins (Ez. 33:12). Conversely, the Lord says that the bad things the “wicked” person has done will be remembered no more when he repents and turns from his wicked ways (Ez. 33:14-16).

The people of Israel said that this is not fair. God’s way is not just. The Lord says to the people of Israel that it is their way that is not just.

In the Gospel reading, some people pointed out how Pontius Pilate had murdered some Galileans when they were offering sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem (Luke. 13:1). Jesus knows what they are thinking. They are thinking that they must have been worse sinners for this to happen to them. Jesus presses the point with them by referring to those eighteen upon whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them (Luke 13:4). In the natural human way of reckoning, they too must have been worse sinners for this to happen to them.

Why do the people of Israel think God’s way is not just? They have a basic sense of justice; people get what they deserve. They are also operating with the law of cause and effect. Since the righteous person has built up a bunch of good credit, good karma, it should cover them when they make a mistake. The good credit should cause a good outcome. On the other hand, the bad person has built up a bunch of bad credit, bad karma. No turning away from their wickedness should be able to help them because bad causes bad.

The Galileans Jesus was talking to were also using the law of cause and effect, reasoning backwards. If there is a bad effect, then it must have a bad cause. There must have been something more wrong with those people for such things to happen to them. They must have built up a bunch of bad credit, or bad karma, for those things to happen.

It is amazing how deterministic this way of thinking according to the law of cause and effect becomes. It ends up being that it was necessary that the tower fell on these and not others. God, or the universe, depending on one’s belief system, had to work it out this way so that those particular people were at the tower at that particular time for the tower to fall on them. If only they knew the secrets and methods of the law of cause and effect to build up good credit, God or the universe would have rewarded them with a good outcome, and they would not have been there at that particular time.

It seems like simple and obvious, straightforward explanation. Cause and effect. Effect to cause. Unavoidable consequence. Unavoidable implication. We have it all figured out. We may now be able to be masters of our own destiny. We may now be able to be masters and judges of other people’s destinies.

This way of reckoning according to the law of cause and effect could really work in a world in which there is no sin and evil will. But we do not live in such a world. It all comes crashing down because we do not live in such a world. Bad things happen to “good” people. We ourselves sin. Everyone sins. No matter how good one is, one cannot escape suffering and death.

What does Jesus say to the natural human way of reckoning? We see this in the Gospel reading. The first thing He says is “No!” He says a blessed and wonderful “No” to this way of thinking on these ultimate issues. He denies that the law of cause and effect has any explanatory power and deterministic effect on these issues.

Then He says, “I tell you, unless you repent, you will also perish.”

The “you” here are those who were reminding Jesus about those who were murdered by Pilate. They just happened not to be under the tower of Siloam when it fell. Jesus says, unless “you” repent, you survivors, you will perish, as they perished.

In other words, they were not worse sinners. You are all sinners, before God, in the universe. You have all merited God’s judgment, bad energy, bad karma, for yourselves, in one way or another.

We are all broken, in one way or another.

 There is no distinction, as the Apostle Paul says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

It is true liberation to hear Jesus say this, because it breaks the cycle of the law of cause and effect. If all have sinned, then it cannot be that the people on whom the tower fell or who were murdered by Pilate were worse than anyone else. It cannot be that there was some deterministic law of cause and effect ordering the universe or energy or God’s deterministic judgment, that caused them to be there at that precise moment to suffer the bad thing that was beyond their control. Reasoning backwards according to the law of cause and effect from bad outcome to bad cause is invalid.

So, repent of this way of reckoning, says Jesus. It really is not fair. And it is merciless and cruel. This law creates a crushing burden that if a bad thing happened, that was beyond one’s control, one is entirely at fault for it. This law also precludes the possibility of repentance, of redemption, of second chances, when we have sinned. It precludes the power of repentance and forgiveness.

Now, here is God’s way of reckoning. It is the reckoning of second chances. It is the reckoning of grace and love. We are righteous before Him due to the righteousness and redemption He provides in Jesus Christ. He forgives the sin of the penitent, remembering it no more. He promises His faithfulness and care. He does not promise that life will always work out the way we want. He promises that He will walk with us through it, sustaining us and upholding us all the way. He also promises the ultimate victory of life over death., of grace over the just judgment of God’s Law against sin.

The Lord says this through Ezekiel: If the wicked man turns, and repents, I remember his sin no more. I do not desire the death of the wicked.

Jesus speaks God’s way in the parable of the fig tree that had no fruit. The owner of the vineyard wanted to do what the law of cause and effect would do. Chop it down. Why waste the ground? This tree is a waste of space.

Have we ever said such things about any human being before?

What does the vinedresser or the gardener say? Wait. Give it a chance, just one more chance. The gardener interrupts, breaks, rejects the law of cause and effect for this fig tree, in terms of its ultimate destiny. Let me nurture and care for it, the gardener says. Then if it does not bear fruit as a result of my gracious ministrations, then let the law of cause and effect have the day.

In the parable Jesus shows us God’s way of grace and mercy. God’s way of reckoning interrupts and breaks the law of cause and effect, the law of karma. This law is overridden by God’s way with respect to the ultimate issues of human destiny.

God’s way of reckoning is to forgive the penitent sinner. In God’s way of reckoning there is hope that our sin will not have the final say, and that our destiny is in the hands of God, who is personal, and who has personally won the victory over sin and death for us in His incarnate Son. God’s way of reckoning is that He has committed Himself to us and promises to be there, forgiving our sin, and that He has demonstrated this in Christ. This is the rock that holds in the midst of life’s trouble. This is the love the generates true self-less love.

We thank God for His way of reckoning today. It is life and hope.



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