Pentecost 26 – Proper 28/Series C (November 13, 2016)
TEXT: Luke 21:5-28
As we approach the end of the Church Year this week and next, we contemplate the End Times. We look forward to the glorious, visible return of our Lord Jesus and the new heaven and new earth promised in eternity. In today’s Gospel reading, our Lord tells about the signs of the times which should prepare us for the end of this present age and his return. And when you hear some of the things that Jesus says, you may think to yourself, “The end really IS near.”
For some, you’d think the world is falling apart following our recent presidential election. Even the cover of the latest issue of the German magazine Der Spiegel has a giant meteor in the shape of Donald Trump’s head on a collision course with earth and the words “Das Ende Der Welt” … “The End of the World.” Other news reports sound very much like what Jesus said: “there will be … people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.” Don’t get me wrong. I understand the frustration of those who are upset about how things turned out. You invest so much time and energy in a campaign. You make a serious emotional investment in your candidate. But if you respond with such despair and weeping and gnashing of teeth, you have the wrong god. Politics is your god. Government is your god. No matter which candidate would have won, it probably won’t be as bad as you think it would have been. This is not the end of our republic. Life goes on. And this is certainly not the end of the world as we know it.
Jesus gave us clear signs of the end. Conflict between nations. Calamities in nature. Persecution from the government. Christians will be betrayed by their own family members and hated by all for bearing the name of Christ.
Jesus compared these signs of the end to the destruction of Jerusalem that was soon to come upon that city. It would be a picture of what is to come at the end of this present age. Jesus weaves this in between his description of the final judgment. And this is how the prophets of the Old Testament often spoke. They had what Bible scholars call a “prophetic perspective,” that is to say, blending near events with far off ones. They tend to speak not in a linear fashion, but in circles. Remember our discussion of the Revelation to St. John last week and how the visions it contains are cyclical. Or think of it this way. It’s like a piece of film that is rolled over on itself, looking through two images superimposed upon one another. The pictures are taken at different times, but when they overlap you see the images together as one. This is a good way to understand how Jesus describes the end. He begins by foretelling the destruction of the temple, that not one stone would be left upon another. But that would not be the end. False messiahs will come. False predictions of the time of the end will come. Don’t listen to them. Then, in the very next paragraph of the text he seems to jump ahead describing the end times. And then, in the third paragraph, he clearly jumps back again to the first century. Jerusalem will be surrounded by enemy armies. About 40 years later, four Roman legions under general and future emperor Titus laid siege to Jerusalem for several months, bringing horrible suffering and destruction. First century historian Josephus described how the residents were driven to fighting with each other for food, breaking into each other’s homes, gnawing on pieces of leather from shoes and belts, along with other unspeakable wartime horrors. No wonder Jesus told his hearers to “flee.” And finally, in the last paragraph, Jesus seems to once again jump ahead into the future and speaks about his final return.
Throughout all these predictions, Jesus gives promises. He gives you promises to strengthen you as the end draws near. He says that the tribulation and trials that come in this fallen, dying world is an “opportunity.” “This will be your opportunity to bear witness,” he says. So, don’t be afraid of those who challenge you. Don’t be afraid of those who may persecute you. You have the God of the universe on your side. And he promises, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to contradict.” At the right time, the Lord will give you the words you need … and you already have his Word in your heart. That is the only Word you need.
Jesus also promises you that no matter how much death threatens, yet not a head of your head shall perish. That seems rather contradictory, doesn’t it? But recall our Lord’s words at the tomb of Lazarus. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Though you die, yet shall you live. You have eternal life now. You will be with Jesus when you die. You will rise again, just like Lazarus, just like Jesus. Jesus said, “By your endurance you will gain your lives.” And he is the one who will give you strength to stand up and confess and endure to the end. Listen to this promise from the inspired pen of Paul: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
At any given time, as bad as things may look, don’t give up. Abide in Christ’s Word. Confess. Endure. Listen to the promises of Jesus. Look at all the promises Jesus has given you. Remember who you are and whose you are. You belong to God. You are baptized, forgiven, given faith to trust Christ’s promises and to endure. Even if a Christian’s blood is shed, they have eternal life awaiting because of the blood of the Lamb shed for them. In this way, you have already gained your life.
As bad as things may look, don’t give up. Look up! When you see the signs of the times, “straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Jesus’ return is just around the corner. All the suffering of this life is just about over.
Look again at the picture of the martyr on the cover of today’s service folder. All around her, her world is falling apart. The city crumbles. An indifferent soldier piles sticks at her feet. The wood feeds the flames meant to take her life. Bound to a post, she cannot escape. But her redemption draws near. She clings to the cross. And she lifts up her head.
In sports, you often hear the cry of “Heads up!” It’s a warning to look out, something is coming your way. Likewise, the cry in our text today to “raise your heads” is a cry to not only look up to the heavens, but to also be ready. Be prepared. Something’s coming. The final judgment and the return of Jesus is near. As God’s beloved children, there is no need keep your head down or keep a low profile. Lift up your heads. Be bold and courageous. Take every opportunity to confess Christ as God and Savior of the world. Do not be lazy and grow idle, as Paul warns in today’s Epistle, and “do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thess. 3:16).
Your redemption draws near to you today in the Words you hear, the Body and Blood you eat and drink. Your redemption is near. It is here. You ARE redeemed.
And your final redemption is on the way, being delivered once and for all from this vale of tears. For some of you, it will come in death. You will be taken to be with Jesus and await the day of resurrection. For others, it will come if we happen to be living when Christ returns, and our bodies will be changed “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52).
None of us knows when our last hour will be. None of us knows when Jesus will return. But you can see the signs. You can be ready. When your world seems to be falling apart, both figuratively and literally, you know what to do. Cling to the cross. Lift up your head. Your redemption is drawing near.