Now, I want you to turn with me to Luke chapter 13, and I want to preach tonight on 'A Titanic Reminder'. I did say this morning that, right throughout the week, I had no intention of preaching on the Titanic - but I felt God really impressing upon me, having read a story to do with the Titanic, that I had to bring this message to you tonight.
Verses 1-5 of Luke chapter 13, let's it read together: "There were present at that season some that told him", that's Jesus, "of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish".
Let's pray together. Each night we're met in this fashion I'm going to invite you to pray before I preach, because I believe it's important that we open our hearts to God. It's quite possible that, right at the very beginning, before you hear anything that I have to say, that God could meet you. We believe God is here, and we believe God is going to speak, but we want people to open their hearts initially, and be ready, and be in a state to listen to what God has to say. So I want you to come - and maybe it's not your practice to go to church, maybe you've been dragged along here, blackmail used to get you here, and you're quite uncomfortable where you're seated? Well, I want you to really come to the Lord and ask Him, not challenge Him, but invite Him that, if He has anything to say to you, that He'll say it and He'll speak to you. Would you do that? Maybe you're sceptical and you're cynical about the whole Christian thing - well, why not come to God and say: 'Lord, if You're there', you can even use that terminology, 'Lord, if You're there, would You speak to me tonight?'.
Let's come and ask the Lord to do that - and those of you who know the Lord, please do pray that God will indeed speak to individuals in our gathering tonight. We are so delighted that some are here, and we want God to move in a very real way. So let us pray together: Father, we thank You, O God, for Your holy word. We thank You for the candour and the sobriety of the message. We thank You, Lord, that the Lord Jesus Christ in particular in the Gospels, as we read His words, He was so straight and to the point. Yet, Lord, He was so tender, compassionate, and gracious. Lord, we pray for the very Spirit of Christ to be in this message tonight - that it will be full of grace and truth - but, Lord, we pray that the loving Saviour Himself will reach into this gathering, and will pluck people, lost souls, as brands from the burning. Lord, we pray that the Lord Jesus Christ, who is mighty to save, will move mountains tonight to bring people to Himself. Lord, we need Your help this evening, we have nothing, and we are nothing - but we declare that Christ is everything. Lord, we ask tonight, in His name and by the power of His Holy Spirit through the Gospel, that He would have the preeminence, and He would receive glory over souls that will come to Him tonight. We pray that You'll send the Holy Spirit in deep conviction - O God, that He will come and make people aware of their sin, make them realise the urgency that there is in this matter, that this is not something that can be left off. Lord, we pray that You'll make them aware that Christ and Christ alone is the only way to be safe and secure. O God, we pray that You will do Your work - for we acknowledge tonight that salvation is of the Lord. So Lord, we stand and wait to see what You will do tonight. Help me, Lord. O God, I need You. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I pray, Amen.
I like to think I know what I'm talking about when I speak on the subject of the Titanic, because my great-great-grandfather was a carpenter on the build of the Titanic. Now that's probably not anything special, because anyone who was a native of Belfast will probably have someone, if they go back far enough, who worked on the great ship, the Titanic. But what I think you may not know is a story connected with the Titanic that, as far as I'm aware - and I haven't been watching an awful lot of the coverage that has gone on in the last week or more - but I haven't heard this account at all mentioned. It goes like this: in 1898, 14 years before the Titanic made her maiden voyage, a man by the name of Morgan Robertson published a book - the title was 'Futility, or the Wreck of Titan'. This was the story - wait for it - of an unsinkable massive ocean liner which, like the Titanic, was on its maiden voyage from Britain to New York in the month of April. There were 2000 people on board, and it was also attempting to cross the Atlantic in record time during which it struck an iceberg and sank.
Now, not only were the ships names very similar - 'Titan' and 'Titanic' - but most of the people on board in this fictional account perished simply because there was a lack of lifeboats on board. It's remarkable, isn't it? Fourteen years before Titanic sailed, a ship called 'Titan' on a maiden voyage from Britain to New York sinks in the month of April with 2000 passengers on-board - sunk by striking an iceberg, and the people perished because there weren't enough lifeboats on-board. Now, I ask you: is that just an amazing coincidence? I think it's a bit more than that. I might even go as far as to say that it may well have been, in some kind of mysterious providence of God, a prophetic warning to the society that was, well, excelling in technology and science and engineering, and thought that it could produce something on a human level that was near-perfect. Unsinkable.
Also consider: is it not more than ironic that on this centenary year of the sinking of the Titanic, the Costa Concordia - a huge modern cruise liner - partially sank off the coast of Italy? Now, there were only some 30 people or so who died on that ship, but we have the benefit of video footage to see the sheer terror on the faces of some 4000 passengers who thought that they were going to die. I don't know whether any of you saw last night the documentary on Channel 4 about that. Imagine what the footage of the sinking of the Titanic would have been like. We have had some films that give us an idea - but I ask you the question: on this centenary year of the sinking of the Titanic, was the Costa Concordia just a coincidence? Could it be, in the strange, mysterious providence of God, that there is a prophetic warning to people similarly in our modern age who think that they can do almost anything, but need to realise that there is a God in heaven with whom we have to do?
You say: 'A warning of what?'. Well, the first warning that I want to bring to you this evening - and there are only two - the first is that everything we know as normality can change in a matter of seconds. I believe that's what the Titanic reminds us of - because one moment there was fine wine and dining, and the next there was blind panic and despair. People's worst nightmare came true. On what was probably the greatest vacation imaginable, the unthinkable happens. It is unthinkable that the unsinkable should sink! It was an inconceivable contrast that human mentality could not take in: 'This is not meant to happen!'. The epitome of this was in the fact that the band was playing on the deck as the Titanic sank. At one moment, I'm led to believe, they were playing 'The Beer Barrel Polka', and the next all of a sudden it changed to 'Nearer, My God, To Thee'. In a moment priorities changed.
How things can change rapidly when we least expect it. Often when things change in our lives it causes us to consider our own mortality - that we're not going to be here forever. It may be a sickness that has cruelly entered into your experience. It may be a bereavement. It may be a tragedy or disaster of your own - but right away, when we're faced with these things, our lives change. We get a different set of values and priorities, and perhaps we start to think of our own deaths and eternity.
I remember a number of years ago reading The Daily Express, and I read of Ryanair FR9336, a flight that was travelling from Bristol to Girona. It plunged 26,000 feet. There were 168 terrified passengers on-board, and among them was the Arctic explorer Pen Hadow, and this is what he said: 'Most passengers thought they were going to die. People were truly terrified, they thought that they were going to meet their Maker. It's no exaggeration'. You see, this is what happens - even atheists, all of a sudden when they feel that their life is on the line, they will cry out: 'O God!'. Some of them will even pray.
The Titanic is a reminder, a warning that everything we know of as normality can change in a matter of seconds. Take the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, on 11th September 2001 - it was unexpected. You see the video footage, it was a beautiful still sunlit morning in New York City, and yet within moments people reported, I quote: 'I thought the world was going to end!'. A news reporter by the name of Lee Brown said: 'The carnage around me felt like it was the end of the world, and for me it almost was'. For nearly 3000 souls it was the end! What a warning!
Yet it's difficult for us at times - it's an inconceivable contrast, when things are going so well, that tragedy might interrupt. I remember going on holiday a number of years ago to Majorca, a beautiful little coastal cove called Cala d'Or - some of you might be aware of some of the caves along the coast of Majorca. At that time our daughter was only a number of months old, and it was a great stage because she was in nappies, and all you had to do was just feed her and let her sleep! So she sat in between the sunbeds, and we spent our day just lounging around and enjoying the leisure. It was an idyllic scene. Yet, one day, as we were just lying there relaxing, I noticed a bit of a commotion out of the corner of my eye. All of a sudden, I noticed a couple of paramedics with a stretcher coming onto the beach. I saw them put the stretcher down, and they were obviously working with someone - and all of a sudden the stretcher was lifted, there was a blanket over the stretcher, and they carried this man away who was obviously dead. Now what was more remarkable than the death of someone on the beach that day was the reaction of everyone else around on that beach. What happened? Well, they just went on as if nothing was happening. They continued to put their suntan lotion on their body, they continued to lick their ice creams, read their 'Hello' magazines, their newspapers, play beach volleyball or dig their sandcastles - because it was inconceivable on their family holiday that death could enter, that tragedy could strike. Do you know what the most remarkable thing about that story is? As far as my memory serves me, the very next day, on almost the exact same spot, someone else died. Was that just a coincidence? Or was it, in the mysterious providence of God, a warning to people in the midst of their joviality and their pleasure and leisure, that we are mortals, we will not live forever, and we must meet our God, and we must be prepared to do so?
The Titanic warns us that everything we know as normality can change in a matter of seconds. Now, life in general is unpredictable, we all know that if we have lived any length of time - but so are the things in the spiritual. There are two I want to speak to you about. The first is death: you do not know when you're going to die. The Scripture says: 'We must all needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again'. The sporting world was shocked recently at the collapse, mid-game, of Fabrice Muamba - a young, fit footballer, professional premiership footballer, and his heart just stopped. The opposition that day, Tottenham Hotspur, as far as I'm aware, they all requested heart scans after that event. Momentarily they were shocked into reality: no matter how fit you are, no matter how successful you are, no matter how many tens of thousands of pounds you're earning per week, how many women you have on your arm, or bling around your neck - you're not going to live forever!
Just yesterday a 25-year-old Italian football star, Morosini, dropped dead on the pitch. Death is unpredictable, and our lives can change in a split second - that's what the Titanic teaches us, as if we needed the Titanic to teach us that! But another spiritual unpredictability is the second coming of Jesus, for you don't have to die to be faced with the reality of God and things eternal. Jesus Himself said: 'Be ready, for the Son of Man comes in an hour when you do not expect Him. As it was in the days of Noah, so it shall be at the coming of the Son of Man'. As it was in the days of the flood - they were eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the Ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away - 'so also will the coming of the Son of Man be'. Do you know what that means? 'Eating, drinking, and giving in marriage'? They were going on in life as if it was going to go on like that forever! That's the way it was in Noah's day. The alarm goes off at whatever time it goes off - 6:30, 7:00, 8:00, maybe 12 noon for you, I don't know - and you get up and you do whatever you do. You brush your teeth, wash your face, go and have your porridge. You up go to work, you take your piece with you, at lunchtime you have it, tea break, come home, have your dinner, put your slippers on, read the paper, go to bed at the normal time - go through it all 24/7 every week of every month. Do you think it's going to go on like that forever? Take the kids to school, collect them, the grandkids, collect them - do you think it's just going to go on and on like that? It's not! One of these days Jesus is going to come! They weren't expecting it in Noah's day, and neither will we.
The Titanic teaches us, it is a reminder that everything we know of as normality can change in a matter of seconds. But there is a second warning, and it's from the Lord Jesus in the passage of Scripture that we read together tonight in Luke chapter 13. It's very simply put: 'Except you repent, you'll all perish' - that's what Jesus said. Those are strong words, but I didn't speak them, I didn't write them. You see, the background to this story was that there was political and religious unrest in Israel - as there had been for many, many years. There had been a revolutionary by the name of Judas - nothing to do with Judas Iscariot, long before him - and he had arisen up in insurrection, and he had led some of the Jews not to pay tribute to Caesar. Pilate assassinated this rebel Judas, and one day he sent some undercover assassins into the Temple of God, into the synagogues, and they slew worshippers while they were actually sacrificing an offering to God. Their blood was mingled with the blood of sacrifice. It was premeditated terrorism, we might say.
Then there's another story here mentioned in verse 4 about the tower of Siloam, and this was more of a freak tragedy - it was no one's fault. People were doing a day's work, and this tower collapsed and 18 people were tragically killed. Now, it appears that people were asking the question, and the Lord Jesus knew this, 'Were these people very wicked because of the way they died?'. Sometimes we can have this warped logic to think that, if someone died like that, well, they must be very evil. But Jesus said to them twice, in verse 3 and then again in verse 5: 'I tell you, no; but except you repent you shall all likewise perish'.
Now we hear so much in our modern age about terrorism and the threat of terrorism. We hear more and more - and it will increasingly be so as we come near the second coming of the Lord Jesus - of tragedy and disaster, and it's awful. There were 1500 souls that perished on Titanic, there were nearly 3000 that perished in 9/11 - but do you know how many people died today? Do you know? It will not be on the news, it will not be on the front of the Daily Telegraph or the Times tomorrow morning, it will not be on Sky News or BBC 24 News. They will not be commemorating it, or remembering it in any memorial. Do you know how many people died this day? 260,000 souls! That's tragic.
You see, we will all die. There's something about our humanity, that we seem to sit up when some kind of tragedy or cataclysmic event happens, like the Titanic. We take note of it because death is on such a grand and great scale - but this fact remains: that we are all dying. The means of our death may be unknown, but the certainty is clear. The real question is the one that Jesus poses: will we repent, or will we perish? The Lord Jesus had the knack of getting to the nub of the issue. You see, the great message of the Gospel that's enshrined in John 3:16 is that 'God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life'. You see, the good news of Jesus Christ that we'll be preaching every night during this mission is that it is not God's will that any should perish!
Going back to Noah's day, the world was in unprecedented wickedness. The Bible says that the wickedness of men's hearts was at such an extent that God said: 'Enough! I must judge this world' - but God always gives a way out, God always gives mercy and grace, there's always a fire exit, there's always a lifeboat. That lifeboat was a man by the name of Noah, a preacher of righteousness, who for 120 years preached 'Repent!' - and the only people that listened to him were his family - but he was a witness to the grace, the mercy, and the love of God. God was giving a way out because God wants men and women to repent, not to perish!
Do you know that judgement is coming to this world? I believe our nation is hurtling toward it. Peter says: 'The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness'. He's going to judge this world - but, thank God, Peter says that God is 'longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance'. The reason why judgement has not yet come is because God wants you to repent, not perish. The cross of Jesus Christ is just like Noah's Ark. It was prepared for the saving of souls who would repent and believe what God had said. The cross of Jesus is the lifeboat to escape death, judgement, and hell. It reveals God's heart of love for you, my friend, that you should not perish but repent. God has given you a way out! Don't you ever for one moment think that God is this cruel, despotic, judging figure who's just waiting to dangle people over hell and drop them headlong forever! God sent His only Son to bleed and to die, and to take your place, and to suffer your judgement and your hell so that you might not perish. That's how much God loves you!
Now I need to explain repentance to you, because a lot of people these days don't have a clue what it means. It just means to change your mind, that's what the Greek word means, 'metanoia', 'changing of mind'. It infers a changing of the heart - that you realise that you're a sinner, and your sin is going to judge you before God. You've broken God's law, you've broken His Commandments, you're condemned - it's His holy standard. You realise that, and you realise you're in trouble, you realise - as we sang - you're sinking deep in sin. So you change your mind that it's not just a quick kick of pleasure in sin, it's not just selfishness, but it's something more drastic: it's offending the holy heart of God, and it's going to damn your soul forever, and separate you from God in life and in death. So you turn from your sin, and you turn to the only Saviour of men, Jesus Christ. The best way to understand your sin is to see your sin on the Saviour. Have you ever seen Him hanging there on the cross for you? Now, I know you've seen pictures, and maybe films, but have you ever seen your sin on Him?
Have you heeded the warnings? Titanic's pilot sped full steam ahead, ignoring the iceberg warnings. I read in the Belfast Telegraph yesterday that the Titanic received six warnings about sea ice before the collision. How many warnings from God's Holy Spirit have you been given? I gather from the prayer meeting tonight - and I don't know a lot of people here - but I gather that there are some folk who have been sitting in this meeting for donkeys years, as we would say, and you're still not saved. Will you disregard this reminder from Titanic? Do you know what's going to happen? Listen carefully to what I'm telling you tonight: you are going to crash headlong into God's justice. His mercy is provided: the lifeboat of salvation, the cross of Jesus - but if you disregard His way of salvation and rescue, you will go headlong into the iceberg of His justice! Is that what you want? I don't need to tell you who will come off the worst. Jesus Himself said: 'On whomever this rock falls, it will grind him to powder'.
Yet the wonderful good news of the Gospel is that the door of God's love, the door of His mercy is open to all. Like the door on Noah's Ark, it's open today for you to come in. Your pastor has already mentioned, and I've advertised this book about John Harper. He was an evangelist, and he preached the previous year to his journey over the Atlantic in Moody Memorial Chapel in Chicago. He was invited the next year, and so he decided to go, and this time he took his niece and his daughter with him. The night before Titanic sank, last evening 100 years ago at 10:30, he was standing on the deck with his niece watching the sunset and he said these words: 'It will be lovely in the morning'. Little did he know that the next morning - well, it would be lovely for him, because he would be in the presence of God and Jesus Christ in heaven. They went to bed that evening, and when disaster struck, after the commotion of the initial shock, he took his niece and his six-year-old daughter and he placed them into one of the lifeboats. He gave them his Bible, and then he went and he ran through the ship warning others of the danger, and talking to them about their eternal destiny and their need for soul's salvation in Jesus. When he was finally forced to jump into the icy waters of the Atlantic, the story goes that he clung to a piece of wreckage, and even then he asked another man - most likely the man your pastor mentioned - he asked: 'Are you saved?'. When the man answered 'No', he said: 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!'.
That Bible that John Harper handed to his family in the lifeboat that day actually is owned by quite a well-known preacher in Belfast. In the flyleaf of the Bible was written these words: 'Today I talked with God, today I walked with God, tomorrow I will be with God' - and he was. Can you say that? Do you talk with God? Do you walk with God? What if you were to die? What if this unprecedented, unpredictable event should invade your normality and change everything, the equilibrium, the status quo, in just a moment? Would you be ready? Would you be prepared? Except you repent, Jesus said, you will all perish - there's no difference between these folk on the Titanic, the folk in New York on 9/11, the folk in any earthquake or disaster - Haiti and the like, Japan, all of them - there's no difference between these folk, the Galileans whose blood was mingled with the sacrifice, those on whom the tower of Siloam fell: except we repent, we'll all perish!
As Titanic sank early on the morning of this very day, April 15th 1912, the band went down with the ship. The last hymn that was played was not 'Nearer, My God, To Thee' - though they played it - but it was a hymn entitled 'Autumn', which concludes with this prayer:
'Hold me up in mighty waters;
Keep my eyes on things above.
Righteousness, divine atonement,
Peace and everlasting love'.
Are your eyes fixed on things above? Righteousness; divine atonement, the death of Jesus, the blood of Calvary for you; peace, perfect peace from this world of sin, the blood of Jesus gives peace within, a peace that passes all understanding - do you have that tonight? The everlasting love that will never ever let you go, the love of God that passes knowledge? Or will calamity, and even eternity, find you ill-prepared to meet your God?
Let us pray. Now, in the quietness, as we just wait upon the Lord in His presence, I want to ask you if God has spoken to you, as you prayed before I preached. Has God spoken to anyone in the meeting tonight? Maybe you have had a close shave with death recently, some of you young fellows, in the car you have come very close - and you know rightly that you weren't ready to die. Maybe there is someone here and you have some kind of complaint at this moment, and you know that you're on borrowed time and you're not ready to meet God - and that is just excluding these eventualities that we cannot account for. I'm not trying to scare you, this is reality, and God has spoken to you tonight.
I know there's a struggle goes on, but it's time for courage - it's time to take hold of the lifeline of Calvary's cross and be saved. Is there a backslider tonight who God has spoken to, that you're not right with God? Maybe you weren't saved in the first place - and I think, some backsliders, that's the case. They're holding on to a profession they made as a child and it meant nothing. Many a profession from children does mean a great deal, mine was one, but many don't. Is there anyone here tonight that's not sure, but wants to make sure this evening that they're ready to meet the Lord - whether He calls them home or comes?
I beg of you tonight - there'll never be another night like tonight, that's for sure. You have had 'A Titanic Reminder', may you tonight make a Titanic decision to repent and believe the Gospel, that you might never perish.
Father, we pray that the Spirit of God would hover over us now and continue to strive with those who You have spoken to tonight. Lord, we pray that the enemy will not be allowed to snatch away the seed of the word. We pray that this evening would be marked and sealed with salvation in this house. O God, souls are perishing, we don't need to tell You that that's the case, Lord - we need to feel it within our own hearts, and folk here tonight need to feel the pangs of hell getting hold upon them, and the urgency of coming to the Lord Jesus Christ for grace and forgiveness. We thank You that there is a way to God, we thank You that there is a Rescuer, there is a Deliverer. We thank You that there is a Lifeboat at the cross of Jesus Christ. O God, we pray that folk will find it tonight - and we thank You that there is room at the cross for everyone, there's no shortage of lifeboat spaces at Calvary. None need perish, all may come. Lord, draw them tonight, we pray, in Jesus' name, Amen.
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This sermon was delivered at Lurgan Baptist Church, Northern Ireland, by David Legge on the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic. It was transcribed from the recording, titled "A Titanic Reminder" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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