Deeply embedded in our human reason is the idea that bad things happen to bad people. It’s this innate sense of justice. How many times have your or I at least thought in the midst of hearing of some difficulty, “They got what they deserved,”?
In our self-righteousness, we, of course, never say that about ourselves. When bad things happen to ourselves, they are unfair and undeserved. Everybody else may deserve it, but not us.
The people Jesus taught had the same thinking, but Jesus in the wisdom and mercy of God shattered their thinking. We read in Luke 13:1, Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Apparently there had been a rebellion in the region of Galilee against the Roman authority that ruled over the land of Israel in Jesus’ day. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor over Israel, did what good governors did in those days. He had the rebels slaughtered. It’s possible that these rebels were the followers of Judas of Galilee, who, some twenty years before this, taught that Jews should not pay tribute to the Romans. As a result, Pilate had them laid low, and the deed seems to have been done as the rebels were offering their sacrifices at one of the Jewish festivals, such that their blood mixed with the blood of their sacrifices.
The people of Jesus’ day seemingly had in their minds that those Galileans got what they deserved, and Jesus took the opportunity to burst their bubble but in an unexpected way. We might expect Jesus to say, “Bless their hearts! They didn’t get what they deserved.” But instead, He asks, Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? (Luke 13:2). The people whom Jesus was talking to most certainly were thinking, “Absolutely! Bad things happen to bad people.” But Jesus then answers His own question, I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish, (Luke 13:3). Basically, Jesus told them that they deserved the very same fate, bursting their self-righteous bubble.
Just to be thorough, Jesus took another current event and asked similar questions. Apparently a tower in the city of Siloam had fallen on eighteen people and killed them. Therefore, Jesus asks, Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? (Luke 13:4). He then echoes His answer to the previous question, I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish, (Luke 13:5).
In a sense, Jesus was confirming their presupposition that bad things happen to bad people but he was also challenging their application. The point of all of this is that we everyone are deserving of bad things. Indeed, bad things do happen to bad people. So everyone of us had better watch out.
In our sin-blinded minds, we see ourselves as good and deserving of good, but there are none righteous—no not one, (Romans 3:9). Indeed, we are all bad and deserving of bad. Therefore, instead of saying, “They got what they deserved,” we should say, “Why not me?” Why didn’t Pilate mix my blood with the sacrifice? Why didn’t the tower fall on me? Why didn’t I fall and break my bone? Why didn’t I get that disease? Why didn’t I get what I deserve when I deserved the same or even worse?
And when we realize what we deserve, our self-righteousness will melt away unto repentance. As Jesus said, Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. May you turn from your righteousness by repenting of your sin and trusting in the righteousness of Jesus Christ before you get what you deserve!