A full sermon outline for the remembrance of 9/11

Scriptures: Luke 13:1-9


Of all the events in my lifetime, I have never known one that has marked itself on the American consciousness like 9/11. No doubt, those who remember the bombing of Pearl Harbor would say it was the same then. Like Pearl Harbor, suddenly on 9/11 we were at war. However, with 911 it was a different type of war with no distinct national boundaries. It was a war where our enemies had infiltrated our borders, even riding our airplanes. We are still trying to figure it all out. In an attempt to answer the questions, multitudes of pundits and experts are continually giving their opinions. Now, 10 years later, all the interviews, commentaries, and documentaries have somehow not been satisfying. We often come away with more questions than answers. Yet, there is a perspective that will provide the insight that we sorely need. It is found in a statement from Jesus recorded in Luke 13: 1-9.

Catastrophic Crisis: Ministry Leadership in the Midst of the Tragic and Trying

The occasion is that some of those listening to Jesus' teaching reported to Him about "the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices." Lk. 13:1 (HSCB ) Jesus does address that atrocity but also mentions the tragedy of the falling of the Tower of Siloam. As a result, we can travel through time and hear an interview with Jesus concerning tragedy that relates just as strongly today. There are some key revelations in the way that Jesus responded that we should know and embrace. Note that:

I. Jesus gave a cooperative response

A. We do not get a "no comment" from Jesus.

Jesus does not take a pass in the debate over human suffering. Likewise, the church does not need to give pat answers for events like 9/11. Do you remember the moment you heard the news and how you responded? I do. I was about to begin a class I was teaching on the NOBTS campus. Students came in telling what had happened. We were stunned. Throughout that day and the coming days, I dealt with intense thoughts and emotions like:

Shock - I watched the planes hit the towers and it seemed surreal, like a disaster movie.

Sorrow - To see the suffering - To hear the phone conversation of one of the heroes of flight 93, who told his wife that they were going after the hijackers and to take care of their 3-month-old.

Helplessness - A woman waving something out the window from one of the towers, but no one could help.

Anger - I wanted vengeance. I cried, "Oh God, please bring these people to justice!" I know how people felt at Pearl Harbor - they wanted to sign up!

Apprehension - What will this mean? Is biological or nuclear terrorism next? My son at the time was 15. I thought, "Will this tragedy cause him to have to go off to war some day?"

These types of feelings were no doubt present in Jesus' time as they are today. They are not present only in national tragedy but also in personal suffering. These events bring up the question of the causes of human suffering. Jesus noted in this case that it was not because of some specific sins that the victims committed that these events occurred.

B. These two tragedies are representative of two different causes.

1. Human moral evil

Pilate was notorious for his brutal acts. Josephus records a number of Pilates' atrocities but not this particular one. These Galileans may have violated some Roman law. Galileans were known for rebelliousness, but this was so ruthless - cutting them down while they offered sacrifices. They were never expecting it. Their guard was down. Does this sound familiar?

One of the questions is, "How can people be so evil?" Jeremiah 17:9: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (KJV) We should not be shocked at terrorism. The depth of human depravity is so much worse than we realize.

2. Evil of fallen creation

Jesus went beyond commenting on the actions of Pilate. Jesus noted the terrible accident at the Tower of Siloam, which was a grand tower in South Jerusalem. Someone may say you cannot compare 5,000 with 18. You can if one of the 18 is your family! Is the suffering any less?

II. Jesus gave a controversial response

A. Jesus did not go for political correctness.

If there had been such a thing, the Jerusalem Times would likely have written a scathing editorial against the comments of Jesus. Jesus did not give a popular answer. Instead, He opted for total truthfulness, and He did it in a provocative way. He posed some questions and then gave some warnings. He emphasized that these events were reminders of the frailty of life and the need to be right with God.

B. Like Jesus, believers are sometimes put on the spot when tragedies occur.

There will be the temptation to say the politically correct thing. There will be the temptation to be religiously tolerant and say, "Well, let's join hands with all faiths." Yet, Jesus did not say all of those Galileans and those on whom the tower of Siloam fell were safe in heaven, safe in the arms of God. Apparently, a number of the victims were unrepentant, apart from God. Like Jesus, we must tell the truth. Not everyone who died on 9/11 went to heaven. Only those who knew Jesus as their Savior went to heaven. We live in an uncertain world and are not promised tomorrow. Paul declared, "Look, now is the acceptable time; look, now is the day of salvation." (II Cor. 6:2a HCSB).

III. Jesus gave a compassionate response

A. A superficial reading may miss the compassion of Jesus.

Jesus' statement may seem blunt, but to miss His compassion is to miss the most important point.

B. Our Lord's expression and his paralanguage are not evident by just the written text.

If we had been present, we would have seen the compassion of Jesus in the manner of His expressions and the tone of His voice.

C. Remember, our Lord has nothing to prove concerning His compassion.

He does not sit in trial before us on the charge of not caring. How dare anyone think for a moment or insinuate that our Lord is not compassionate? He answered that question when He came into the world to die on a cross. He did not sit on the sideline. HE DID SOMETHING. His call for human repentance would not have mattered without the atonement of the cross. We can always share with those who are experiencing tragedy that through His death on the cross, Jesus gave us redemption from the tragic consequences of this sinful world.

D. Jesus knows something we cannot fully comprehend: the terrible destruction ahead for the unrepentant.

He cares! That is why He gave the warning!

IV. Jesus gave a convicting response

A. It is convicting to our nation because America needs to put its trust in God alone, to live up to the motto on our coins.

The people at Siloam never expected the tower to fall. The World Trade Center towers were symbols of American economic might. The Pentagon represents the heart of America's military might. Yet, we cannot trust in economic or military might. As a nation, we have trusted in ourselves and not God. We must heed the admonition of II Chronicles 7:14.

B. It is convicting to the church

Has the church been faithful in preaching for all to repent from sin and receive Christ as Savior? Jesus gave the parable of the fig tree. The main point of this parable is that there is not much time. There is an interesting parallel with the unfruitful fig tree concerning the three years of Jesus' ministry. His message and ministry were rejected during the three years. Yet, more time has now been given. We are in that time by the mercy of God.

V. Jesus gave a comforting response

A. Comfort because God will make things right

He is a God of compassion and mercy, but also a God of justice. Final justice belongs to God, and it will be perfect justice. The horrific crime of 9/11 has now received a partial justice because our brave soldiers recently killed the mastermind of the 9/11 massacre, Osama Bin Laden. God has given responsibility for temporal justice to earthly rulers (Romans 13:3-11), but it will always be less than perfect. However, God's justice will be perfect (Jeremiah 17:10).

B. Comfort because God is in control

Jesus is moved with compassion, but unruffled. He never panicked, even when he went to the cross. World events may leave us concerned, but God is sovereign (Proverbs 21:1).


The context for this statement by Jesus follows His teaching on the Second Coming. We never know when He may come for us. When tragedy strikes, we have the opportunity and obligation to declare that the uncertainty of life means no one should put off becoming right with God through Jesus Christ. Because of what He did for us, we have the assurance of Romans 8 31-39.

Steve Echols is Associate Dean for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He and Allen England, Associate Professor of Church and Educational Administration at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, are coauthors of Catastrophic Crisis: Ministry Leadership in the Midst of Trial and Tragedy.