2,986 people died in in the 9/11 terrorist attack in America, in 2001. Two years later, ten times that number died in one night in Bam, Iraq, because of the great earthquake. Two years after that, ten times that number (almost 290,000) died in the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Six years later 160,000 people perished in Haiti from the massive earthquake. In America, 35,000 people die in car accidents every year.
And you know that disasters — some small, some large — happen in your country every day. And, of course, they are always large for the people involved. My question is “What does Jesus want us to learn from the calamities of the world? What does he want us to learn about how not to waste our lives in such a world?”
Let’s get very specific. What about the tragic Sewol Ferry Disaster in April of 2014 here in your own homeland? 304 passengers died — most of them teenagers? Some of you listening to my voice were touched very closely by those losses. What would Jesus say if you came to him with the horrific news of a capsized ferry and so many young people killed? Or what would he have said about 2,900 dead in the 9/11 attack?
We can’t know everything that he would say. But we can know part of what he would say. Because we know what he did say when people brought him news like that during his own ministry.
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And 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.” (Luke 13:1–5)
The situation is that Pontius Pilate, the governor who crucified Jesus, had slaughtered some worshipers in Jerusalem and mingled their own human blood with the blood of the animals they were sacrificing. It was horrible — like so many of the disasters we experience in our day. And people wondered them, just as they do today: What would Jesus say? In their mind, this disaster seems to mean that these people who died must have committed some worse sins than others. So they ask Jesus.
Jesus’s Answer to Suffering
His answer must have shocked them. Instead of focusing on the sins of the dead, he focuses on the sins of the living — the ones who are asking the question — all of us! He answers (Luke 13:2):
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.
And then he makes matters even more astonishing. He brings up a disaster where 18 people died but no human was doing the killing — like Pilate. A tower simply collapses. And again Jesus focuses attention not on those who died, but on the living — the ones like us who are asking the question. Luke 13:4–5:
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.
We might wish Jesus had said something more tender. And, of course, we know that Jesus was tender and that he wept over the people in Jerusalem who failed to see the truth (Luke 19:41–44). But there comes a time when we need something more than empathy and tenderness. We need to understand reality. We need to understand what is really going on in the world. Jesus gives us that. He talks about ultimate reality. He deals with God and sin and judgment and salvation. Those are the big issues in life.
“Your life and my life hang by a thread of God’s sovereign grace.”
He asks us, in effect, “Are you astonished that eighteen people were simply walking by this tower and it fell on them?” We say, “Yes.” He answers: “You’re astonished at the wrong thing. What you should be astonished by is that you weren’t under the tower when it fell. What you should be astonished by is that you weren’t in the temple, slaughtered, with those Galileans.” (Luke 13:4–5)
What I, as a living American should be astonished by is that I was not in the Trade Towers of New York when they collapsed. What you as a living Korean should be astonished by is that you were not on the Sewol Ferry when it sank. Why would Jesus say that? Because that is where we all deserve to be.
Jesus’s point is this: In a world where everybody is a sinner who deserves nothing good from God, but only judgment, the thing that should amaze us is not that anyone dies in a catastrophe, but that we all haven’t died — that any of us is still alive with time to repent. That’s what should astonish us: that you and I are alive right now — that we have another moment of life in which to repent and get right with God. That, Jesus says, is the amazing thing!
Here’s the point: Your life and my life hang by a thread of God’s sovereign grace.
The reason you and I are alive tonight is that God’s power and God’s grace holds us in existence. We don’t have the power to keep our hearts beating if God says stop. And we don’t deserve for our hearts to go on beating. We are weak and we are sinners. Therefore, we are utterly dependent on God’s power and God’s grace. And we should be amazed that we are alive.
We Belong to God
We are not our own. God created us. God owns us. He may do with us as he pleases. And he can do us no wrong, because we deserve nothing good from him.
If you are a Christian — if you believe that Jesus, the Son of God, died for your sins and rose again, and if you embrace him as your Savior, and your Lord, and the supreme Treasure of your life, you are doubly not your own.
You are not your own:
- because you were created by God, and he owns what he creates.
- because he bought you by the blood of his Son (1 Corinthians 6:20).
We belong utterly to God. We are not our own. And therefore God decides for us the length and meaning of our life. We don’t know tell God the meaning of existence. He tells us.
Don’t Waste Your Life
If you are alive tonight, it is because of God’s grace and God’s power. And God does nothing randomly. There is a reason you are alive. Your life has a meaning, a purpose. And God decides what it is. If you ignore his purpose and make up your own purpose and your own meaning, you will waste your life. And that will be a great tragedy. You only get one life. And if you waste it, it is wasted forever.
I am so thankful that in the home I grew up in there was a plaque hanging on the wall of the kitchen so that I saw it every day. It said,
Only one life ’twill soon be past.
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
The message was clear through all my growing up years: You only get one life. One life! Don’t waste it! Don’t waste it!
My aim in this message is to help you not waste your life. I want you to see and embrace God’s ultimate reason and purpose for your existence. And I want you to turn your back on every offer of life that will prove to be a waste.
Where Is Your Treasure?
For example, Jesus said in Luke 12:15, “Be on your guard . . . for your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions.” This is one of the great lies of the evil one, namely, life is about getting. This life is about earning and buying and having and possessing. Life is about the power and prestige of money. And Jesus says, “It’s not! That’s not what life is for.”
Then he illustrated the point with a parable from Luke 12:1–21:
The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” ’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.
That last phrase is the key. What does it mean: This man laid up treasures for himself, and was not “rich toward God.” What does it mean to be “rich toward God?” It does not mean enrich good with your riches. God already owns our riches. “Who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? [Nobody!] For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:35–36).
What then does it mean that this rich man was not “rich toward God”? It means, God was not his riches. When he looked toward God, he did not find his riches there. For us then, to be “rich toward God” is to treasure God as our riches. When we consider God, he is our wealth. God is our treasure.
In other words, if you treasure the world — if you treasure money and what it can buy — more than you treasure God, you are a fool. Why? Because God is the source of all beauty and all pleasure. And Psalm 16:11 says, “In his presence is fullness of joy. At his right hand are pleasures for evermore.” Turning away from the fountain of all life because you prefer the creation over the Creator is insane. That is the meaning of a wasted life.
“Turning away from the fountain of all life because you prefer the creation over the Creator is insane. That is the meaning of a wasted life.”
The Unwasted Life
What, then, is the unwasted life? What is the ultimate meaning of your existence? Why are you here on earth? The apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians gives the answer. It is found in Philippians 1:20-21. These two verses have shaped my life and theology as much as any verses in all the Bible.
It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
This is the ultimate meaning of life for all true Christians. Paul’s greatest hope — the passion of his life — was that Christ would be magnified [made to look magnificent] in his body, whether he lived or died. The meaning of life is to make the magnificence of Christ known. The reason you are alive — the reason you have any breath left in you — is to make Jesus Christ look magnificent. If you did not drown in the Sewol Ferry disaster, and I was not crushed in the collapse of the Trade Towers, the reason is that we might live another day to show that Christ is magnificent.
Make Christ Magnificent
But these two verses in Philippians 1 not only makes plain the ultimate purpose of our lives, but also how to achieve that purpose. This turns out to be spectacularly good news.
How do you live and die in order to show that Christ is magnificent? How do you magnify Christ in our life? Philippians 3:21 gives the answer:
My eager expectation and hope is that Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death [Here’s how, verse 21:] For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Let’s take them one at a time: (1) living to magnify Christ, and then (2) dying to magnify Christ.
1. Living to Magnify Christ
First living. “My passion is that Christ will be magnified by my life. For to me to live is Christ.” What does that mean: “To live is Christ”? Paul gives the answer in Philippians 3:7–8:
Whatever gain I had, I count it as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish in order that I might gain Christ.
So how do you magnify Christ in your life? How do you make him look magnificent? Answer: By living in a way that shows you prefer him to everything else. Indeed, everything else is rubbish compared to him. That’s the way you make him look magnificent.
- You use your money to show that Christ is more valuable to you than money.
- You eat food in a way that shows Christ is more precious to you than food.
- You use your apartment, your phone, your computer in a way that shows Christ is worth more to you than your apartment and phone and computer.
To live is Christ means that everything in your life becomes a means of showing that Christ is better. To live is Christ means to be so satisfied with the beauty and value of Christ that your joy does not depend on your possessions. If you have only a few, you magnify Christ by your contentment with little. And if you have many things, you magnify Christ by using them for others, and losing them without grumbling.
2. Dying to Magnify Christ
But what about dying? This is where we really see what it means to magnify Christ. Paul says, “My great passion is that Christ will be magnified in my death. For to me to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20–21).
How is it gain when a Christian dies? The answer is in verse Philippians 1:23: “My desire is to depart [die] and be with Christ for that is far better.”
The reason dying is gain is that when we die we know more of Christ. We are closer to Christ. Our sinning is over, and our enjoyment of Christ increases.
All I Do Is Win
Now let’s go back and put all the pieces together. Paul says, “My great passion in life is to show that Christ is magnificent in my dying.” Then he explains, “That means Christ will be seen as magnificent if in my dying because I experience death as gain. And the reason I experience death as gain is that when I die, I get more of Christ. Christ is magnified in my death because in death I experience the loss of everything but Christ as gain.”
Here’s the amazing implication of all that: Christ is magnified in my dying, when I am so satisfied in Christ that, in spite of all the losses of death, death is gain. Christ himself is more satisfying than everything I lose in death, Christ is shown to be magnificent in my dying. Christ is most magnified in you when you are most satisfied in him, especially in the hour of suffering and death.
And what is so amazing about this — the reason it is such good news — is that the two great passions of the universe are not contradictory. They are not at odds. God’s passion to be glorified. And your passion to be satisfied.
“Live in a way that shows you prefer Christ over everything.”
God’s Glory or My Happiness?
When I was young, I thought I had to choose between these two. Either I would live for the glory of Christ, or I would live for my satisfaction. But that is not what Paul says. He says, “You dare not choose between the magnifying of Christ and the satisfying of yourself.” Why? Because Christ is magnified precisely when you are satisfied in him.
Let’s return to where we started. Whenever you hear of a disaster or a single death, remember, the amazing thing is not that someone died, but that you didn’t die, even though you should have. The amazing thing, Jesus says, is that you have another day — or another decade.
The great issue is: What will you do with it? Will you waste it storing up more and more money? Or will you wake up to the meaning of life? You are alive for another day. And the reason is so that you can make Christ look magnificent by the way you live and the way you die. And the stunning key to making him look great is that Christ is most magnified in you when you are most satisfied in him. If you live, use everything you have to show that Christ more valuable that everything you have. If you die, count it gain because you are more satisfied in Christ than all you leave behind.
I pray that the Lord will open your eyes to see the truth and beauty and value of Jesus Christ who loved us and gave himself for us. He is a magnificent Savior. He is a wise ruler over the world. He is a precious friend like no other. And he is an all-satisfying Treasure — beyond anything or anyone in this world.
May the Lord give you eyes to see that to live is Christ, and to die is gain. May you see that you don’t have to choose between his glory being magnified and your heart being satisfied. Because they are one. They happen together. Christ is most magnified in you, when you are most satisfied in him. If you miss this, you will waste your life. Don’t waste it.