A Titanic Tragedy

Scripture:  Luke 12:13-21
(Preached at FBC Nitro, April 15, 2012)

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  For generations this tragedy has captured the hearts, minds and imaginations of people from all walks of life.  100 years later fascination with this incident is still strong.  The Internet, television and print media are filled with news of a Titanic memorial voyage, complete with passengers on the ship dressing in outfits that are designed according to the fashions in 1912 and what was worn by the passengers back then.  A blockbuster movie was released several years ago, and now has been re-released in 3D.  What was in 1912 a horrible, heart-breaking disaster has now been romanticized into something it never was.  From a spiritual standpoint, what we have in the Titanic is a Divine object lesson.  We know that God didn’t cause the Titanic to sink and all those people to drown in the icy North Atlantic.  The core issue in behind this tragedy and all other human tragedies that have occurred throughout history is our sin.  Because the human race has rebelled against God and has insisted on having our own way, horrible things happen.  When Jesus returns He will make all wrongs right, and He is already beginning to do so through the freedom from sin found in Jesus Christ.  Until that time, we continue to serve Jesus and to wait for His second coming.  In this particular tragedy, the sinking of the Titanic, we see three things that still plague each one of us today.  These things are nothing new – they are also outlined in our passage for this morning, which was written nearly 2000 years before this massive boat was even built.

First of all, a titanic tragedy happens through arrogance.  Verses 16-17 say, …“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?’”  People at the turn of the 20th century wanted luxury, and to say that’s what they found in Titanic would be an understatement.  Not only was Titanic the largest man-made moving object in the world, it was also the most luxurious ship the world had ever known.  It was a floating palace loaded with fine amenities; a five-star hotel on the sea.  Never before had anyone seen anything like it.  The Titanic was a symbol of everything man could achieve and she was truly beautiful vessel.  The major error was that God was forgotten in the process.  Legend has it that one crew member even boasted to a boarding passenger, “God himself could not sink this ship!”  It had all the latest innovations in ship-building technology, including 15 watertight doors.  Most people really did believe that the ship was unsinkable.  As for the lifeboats, the Titanic’s owners were so convinced that the ship could never sink, that they only included lifeboats for less than half those on board.  Without as many lifeboats the deck looked much better and was far less cluttered.  The passengers on the Titanic felt no disaster threatened them – tragedy happened to other people, but not to them.  The rich fool of our Bible passage for this morning thought the same thing – tragedy happened to other people, but not to him.  We have this tendency over and over again to think our lives are secure, that we are doing just fine apart from God, thank you very much.  We insist on maintaining control, we insist on saying that the wages of sin is not death, that we can ignore God, pushing Him down and down on our list of priorities and suffer no consequences.  Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  Throughout the Bible are accounts of proud men and women who refused to humble themselves and acknowledge God.  They built monuments to themselves and their achievements, they trusted in their own abilities, possessions and self-efforts, rather than relying on God’s provision.  All of them sooner or later came to a tragic end. You’d think we humans would “get it” by now, but we don’t.  1 Peter 5:5 tells us, “…God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  A titanic tragedy happens through arrogance.

Then, a titanic tragedy happens through apathy.  Verse 19 of our passage says, “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”  A titanic tragedy happens not only when we think we are nearly invincible, but when we become apathetic in the face of danger.  We don’t really care when other people speak to us about our need to right with God or to put Christ first in all areas of our lives for the sake of our children and grandchildren.  We are told that that our families need to be godly families, but we are too busy in pursuing temporal things that spiritual matters lose their importance to us.  We become apathetic, we lose the passion we once had in our relationship with Jesus Christ.  As we drift further away from God and His people, the danger grows greater whether or not we are aware, or whether or not we care.  Passengers on the Titanic enjoyed a tranquil crossing on their way to New York and, in fact, crew members remarked they had never seen the Atlantic more calm.  Everything was super.  On Sunday, April 14, 1912, the ship was making excellent speed and most of the passengers spent the day indoors because the weather had turned suddenly cold.  Captain E.J. Smith held church services that morning, which would have been traditionally followed by a lifeboat drill for passengers and crew, but on this day, there was no drill, because no one could imagine any danger.  The people likely met together, sang a few hymns, heard some nice words, and then went to attend to important matters like the elaborate luncheon awaiting them in the ornate dining room or the amusements awaiting them in the recreation area.  The people were apathetic about any existence of danger.  Iceberg warnings were being received via wireless telegraph all day and evening but were generally ignored – the Titanic pressed forward toward disaster.  A sense of apathy to any kind of danger was present in the rich fool in our Bible passage, it was present among the crew and passengers on the Titanic, and it is present among us today.  Among non-Christians we are not concerned about having our sins forgiven and entering a relationship with Christ.  It’s not that most folks are adamantly opposed to the idea, it just doesn’t really matter to them.

Among Christians, we tend to lose any concern about modeling a Christ-centered life and sharing the message of Christ with future generations.  We have a tendency to feel that as long as we are happy and as long as we are content, then everything will be okay.  Teachers and preachers have said again that the church is one generation away from extinction.  We see church buildings all around us empty or nearly empty.  Churches are declining and dwindling in attendance and participation because of lack of interest in godly things.  We see the threats all around us, but surely no danger can be present to us, so apathetically we continue to plod forward.

There are many stories that are told about the last moments aboard the Titanic.  One that has not been in the movies is that of John Harper.  He was the newly called Pastor to Moody Church who was on his way to Chicago. After the collision with the iceberg, he got his 6-year-old daughter into a lifeboat, but apparently made no attempt to save himself.  Instead, he ran throughout the ship yelling, “Women, children and unsaved into the lifeboats!”  Survivors report that he began witnessing to anyone who would listen, and even continued to preach after he had jumped into the water, clinging to a piece of wreckage.  Harper’s final moments were described by a survivor four years after the disaster.  He said, “I was drifting alone on a spar that night, when the tide brought Mr. Harper, also on a piece of wreck, near me. ‘Man,’ he said, ‘Are you saved?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I am not.’  He replied, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’ The waves bore him away, but strange to say, brought him back a little later, and he said, ‘Are you saved now?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I cannot honestly say that I am.’ He said again, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,’ and shortly after, he went down; and there, alone in the night, and with two miles of water under me, I believed. I am John Harper’s last convert.”  He was also one of only six people to be picked up out of the water that night.  John Harper was not apathetic – he was not only aware of the physical danger, but also of the spiritual danger.  Do you care about the danger that approaches if a person doesn’t know Jesus Christ?  Do you care about the danger that approaches if we have no priority for our relationship with Him, and little if any passion?  A titanic tragedy happens through apathy.

Then, a titanic tragedy happens through avarice.  Webster’s dictionary defines avarice as, “excessive or insatiable desire for wealth or gain:  greediness.”  Verses 18-21 of our passage say, “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.” Those aboard the Titanic booked passage in first class, second class or third class (steerage) accommodations.  First class passengers enjoyed the most luxurious surroundings, rivaling the most posh hotels in the world. First class suites even included their own private promenade decks, sitting rooms and lavatories.  It was said that the second class accommodations on Titanic were better than first class on all other ships of that time, and even steerage passengers had it better than any other ship.  When the passengers were being evacuated from the ship, many of the wealthy on board refused to leave without their valuables.  Some of them went back to their staterooms to collect their belongings, and in doing so missed the only lifeboat available.  Saving their treasure was more important to them than saving their lives, and in trying to save their treasure they lost both.  Matthew 16:26 says, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”  In the 100 years since that horrible night, all kinds of artifacts have been brought from the wreckage of the great ship.  These things help to tell the story, and allow us to better understand what happened that night. We’ve seen pieces of the ship, personal belongings, even letters, menus and tickets.  We’ve experienced underwater cameras giving us pictures of the watery grave for so many people.  Do we really understand what happened?  Have we learned anything all from this horrible accident?  Jesus tells of a tragedy in our passage for this morning, today is the 100th anniversary of another tragedy?  Have we learned anything at all?

Jesus has a better way than living in arrogance, in apathy or in avarice.  He wants to give you personal humility, spiritual passion, and eternal treasure.  All of these things come through a close relationship with Him.  Will you draw near to Him this morning?  The Bible says if we “draw near to God, He will draw near to us.”  He has a better way of living – trust Him today.

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