(This sermon was preached on November 17, 2019 at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, in Woodstock, NB, Canada.)
Text: Luke 21:5-19
What’s your favorite kind of movie?
A popular genre of movie is the doomsday movie where life as we know is threatened or has already taken place and now humans exist in a new reality. I think of movies like: War of the Worlds, Armageddon and Apocalypse.
This is not my favorite genre. It rates at the bottom of my list, just above horror movies and I hate horror movies!
I enjoy movies that educate or entertain. I don’t like movies that frighten me. The good thing about movies is that you can choose not to watch them.
That works for movies but it doesn’t work for real life. Life can be pretty scary and you can’t avoid it like you can a movie you choose not to watch.
These days there is lots going on in the world that is quite scary. It seems that almost every country is in conflict, once stable nations are tottering on chaos, marches and protests bring powerful cities to their knees, there are mass shootings in schools on a regular basis and we now witness regularly massive destruction by fire, water, wind and drought.
How are we supposed to feel, except afraid and anxious?
Christ followers are not immune to disturbing news or personal suffering. Are we to react any differently because of our faith than those who do not believe in the God of the Bible?
GOOD NEWS FROM THE GOSPEL OF LUKE
Our text today from the gospel of Luke provides answers to these questions. Jesus told his disciples what their response to trouble, chaos and destruction should be and it surprised them. It may surprise you that you can think differently about what a future than can be frightening and hopeless.
Our text in Luke 21 is a conversation that Jesus has with His disciples. They are admiring the beauty of the temple in Jerusalem that was “adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts to God”. Jesus takes the conversation in a totally different direction. He warns them of danger in their future.
WARNING – FUTURE AHEAD!
Jesus told His disciples of six troubling events or experiences ahead of them.
- The temple in Jerusalem will be destroyed.
V.6 – “The time will come when not one stone will be left on another, every one of them will be thrown down.”
2. False Messiahs will appear.
V. 8b – “Many will come in my name, claiming ‘I am he’ and ‘the time is near.’
3. Global conflicts
V.10 – “Nations will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”
4. Natural disasters
V.11 – “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places”
V.12 – “They will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of me.”
V.16 – “You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.”
Some of these things did happen not long after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
THE TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM WAS DESTROYED
The temple in Jerusalem that the Jews thought was invincible was destroyed about 40 years after Jesus spoke these words.
In 70 AD these words were literally fulfilled. Titus, the Roman general, built large wooden scaffolds around the walls of the temple buildings, piled them high with wood and other flammable items, and set them ablaze. The heat from the fire was so intense that the stones crumbled. What remained was picked through the rubble and thrown down into the Kidron Valley.
We also know from the Book of Acts that it was not long after Jesus’ death and resurrection that persecution broke out against Christians.
Many of these things are happening today or will happen in our future.
How are we to face a future that sounds so hopeless, violent and threatening?
The same way Jesus instructed the first disciples to respond. He told them there were 3 things they were to do in the face of danger, destruction and despair.
The first was to watch.
V.8 – “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name claiming ‘I am he’ and ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.”
The word “watch” means “beware, pay attention”. This first warning was to watch:
Jesus was concerned about where people would place their hope when times got difficult. When false saviors will appear. “Don’t follow them,” Jesus said.
It is so easy to fall into this trap of looking to others to rescue us.
When things get bad, we look for politicians to make things right. We expect changes in our laws to turn bad people into good. We turn to popular preachers or best sellers or blockbuster movies to provide insight on how we are to navigate an uncertain future.
Jesus said there was only one person we should follow, the one who claimed to be the only way, the truth and the life.
Watch. Why did Jesus say to do that?
If we are watching for something we are not taken by surprise.
Think about the weather and the importance of watching.
If you listen to a weather forecast that tells you that a storm is coming, you have time to prepare. When the storm comes you are not surprised.
If we take these words of Jesus to heart, we can remain calm and secure instead of being afraid of what lies ahead. Jesus said these things would happen so we will not be surprised.
WATCH SO YOU ARE NOT SURPRISED
Jesus said to wait.
V.9 “When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
As the world gets worse people will think this is it. This is the end of the world. Jesus said these things must happen BEFORE the end comes.
God is not going to let humans control the outcome of this world He has created. Read 2 Thessalonians and the Book of Revelation and you will see that before the end comes there is much that will take place that will demonstrate that God indeed is on the throne! Jesus will return to gather His own, Satan will be defeated. A new heaven and a new earth will be created. GOD, not man will determine the timing of all these things.
Paul wrote to the believers in Thessalonica who were afraid of the future. They believed that Jesus’ return was imminent and when their believing loved ones died, they were afraid that perhaps they had missed the coming of the Lord. Imagine how terrifying that thought would be!
To calm them and to give them hope, Paul wrote these words in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 :
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Encourage one another! The coming of the end is reason not to fear but to rejoice!
Jesus said to wait, to wait expectantly.
Watch so we are not surprised.
Wait so you do not worry.
There was a third instruction Jesus gave to his disciples that we need to take to heart.
He warned them that before the conflict between nations reached their peak, they themselves would be persecuted.
V.12 – “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.”
This was not far in the distant future. This was imminent. If I had heard these words from Jesus’ lips myself I would have been quite unsettled and fearful.
But what Jesus said next revealed that there was purpose even in all the hardship they were to face.
V.13 – “This will result in your being witnesses to them.”
Jesus said that God would work out his purposes even in the evil and persecution heaped upon God’s faithful disciples.
This word “witness” is an important one in the New Testament. Just before Jesus ascended into heaven He said this to His disciples,
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
The Christians did not move out of Jerusalem until they faced persecution. Acts 8 tells us that “On that day (the day Stephen was stoned), a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Jerusalem and Samaria.”
Persecution was the number one factor in the spread of the Christian faith.
“Witness” is such a powerful word to use. Christians are not to sit passively waiting for the destruction of the world and for God to call us home. We are to be engaged in the world as witnesses.
Think of the important role a witness has at a traffic accident. Let’s say there is a car off the road in a ditch. Police and other authorities come to investigate. There are no skid marks. The weather was fine. What happened? They don’t know. Then a witness comes along and says they were coming from the other direction at the time of the accident and saw a moose in the other lane. That explains everything! A witness fills in the gaps. A witness helps people connect the dots and make sense of the present. A witness has access to information that others do not have. A witness is useless if they keep the information to themselves.
As I was thinking about this I remembered an experience I had
a few years ago. I was driving to a winter retreat for the weekend and I had in my car some of the food and 4 university students. We are driving along the highway and I hit black ice.
The car began to spin around and around. I had the experience that many people speak of in times like that – my life flashed before my eyes. I couldn’t do anything. I was getting disoriented and all I could think of was that I had other peoples’ children in my car. The car finally came to a standstill across the highway.
I was disoriented. It was dark and I could see the lights of oncoming traffic. I could hear drivers applying their breaks and all I could say to those in my car was, “They’re going to hit us.”
Then I heard this tap on my window. I rolled it down and saw a man who asked if we were alright. He had the calmest voice I had ever heard. When I assured him that we were, he told me that everything was going to be okay, and I believed him!
One reason for that was that he had a different perspective than me. I was limited to what I could see from inside the car but he was standing on the highway. He could see cars in the two lanes of traffic. He was able to stop the traffic and tell me how to get back into my lane.
He was a witness, bringing comfort and a perspective I didn’t have.
How do witness in troubled times? There are many ways. It is unfortunate that so many churches have limited witnessing to speaking. It is true that we need to be able to explain the gospel but being a witness is much more than just that.
We witness by our own response to stress, suffering and fearful circumstances.
We also witness by being present with people going through suffering.
This is the time for churches to be involved in mercy ministries. There are many hurting people in our world looking for help and comfort.
ADORING OUR CHURCHES
Remember the context of this message of Jesus? His disciples were admiring their beautiful place of worship. That is what many Christians today are doing! We admire the building, the organ, the items dedicated to worship and we find safety inside the church with people who believe like us and live like us. Jesus’ words of warning about what is to come is a rebuke to the “hunker down” mentality. Instead of looking for comfort we need to be there comforting others who do not know what we know about the future.
The chaos, confusion and suffering that lies ahead in our future is not reason for us to despair.
We are to watch so we are not surprised.
We are to wait for Christ will return.
We are to be witnesses bringing hope to those in despair.
The future is not something to fear but an opportunity to demonstrate our faith in the living Christ, the hope of the world.