Pastor Joel Leyrer - The Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, November 13, 2022

Text: Luke 21:5-19

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Dear Friends in Christ, “Well, I didn’t see that coming.” We’ve all heard someone say that or said it ourselves.

With the possible exception of receiving Christmas or birthday gifts, most of us dislike being surprised. This especially holds true when the surprise has a direct or altering impact on our lives or the lives of our loved ones.

We just don’t like the uncomfortable feeling of being caught off guard. Or blind-sided. Or broadsided by something we didn’t anticipate. And when we are, we wish we could have known what was coming so we could have been better prepared. Because, as the saying goes, “forewarned is forearmed.”

That thought lays the groundwork for what Jesus is teaching us in our text for today.

The theological term “eschatology” comes from two Greek words: eschatos meaning “last,” and logos, meaning “word” or “discourse.” As the designation for a specific area of Bible teaching, “eschatology” refers to what the Bible says about the last things and the end times.

Not surprisingly, our text for today is a portion of what Bible scholars refer to as Jesus’ “eschatological discourse.” It is also not surprising that we are considering these words of Jesus today. For Christians like us who follow a yearly worship pattern, it is traditional to remember this teaching as another Church Year draws to a close (next weekend is the final Sunday).

With this teaching Jesus is certainly giving his disciples and us a glimpse into the future. But that’s not his main intent. He’s actually preparing them – and us – for life in the present. He tells us these things so we might be better prepared to deal with them when they inevitably come upon us. So what we have before us is really a preparative lesson on

KNOWING WHAT TO EXPECT

as we continue our daily walk with Jesus as his modern-day disciples.

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

What is the most beautiful and stunning example of architecture you’ve ever seen? If you lived at the time of Jesus, there would be no dispute. It was, hands down, the Temple in Jerusalem.

From Bible history you may remember that Solomon’s magnificent Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. This was actually the second Temple rebuilt by the Jews after the Babylonian captivity, with considerable additional work being done by King Herod.

Simply put, and as we surmise from the disciples’ remark, it was a breathtaking structure. Listen to this quote from a contemporary historian named Josephus:

The exterior of the building lacked nothing that could astonish either the soul or the eyes. For [the exterior] being covered on every side with massive plates of gold, the sun had no sooner risen than it radiated so fiery a flash that those straining to look at it were forced to avert their eyes as from the solar rays. To approaching strangers, it appeared from a distance like a snow-clad mountain, the reason being that whatever was not overlain with gold was purest white.

The only thing Jesus has to say is that this beautiful building would be destroyed. His prediction took place approximately 40 years later at the hands of a Roman general named Titus.

Such a jarring statement naturally piqued the curiosity of the disciples. They want details. “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

This gives Jesus the opportunity to speak on the subject of signs. Here is where eschatology gets a little tricky, because Jesus weaves together signs that will precede the end of Jerusalem with signs that will also precede the end of all things. First Jesus gives them and us a description of signs that will run through the course of time leading up to the end. Then he tells his disciples what to expect in their near future.

Among the general signs that will accompany the end are false teachers and false teachings, wars and revolutions, natural disasters and signs from heaven (things like meteors and comets and eclipses – events which have always interested and sometimes terrified people). While such activity may be disturbing and distressing, Jesus gives this important reminder to the child of God: “Do not be frightened.” In other words, Jesus has things under control. The one who died on the cross to show his love for sinners like you and me continues to rule us with that love.

Furthermore, Jesus tells us not to be “deceived by them” – deceived in the sense that we may think God has forgotten us or his world as all these things continue to take place. Rather we are to recognize them for what they are – steppingstones leading to our final goal of living forever in the new heavens and the new earth God has in store for his people.

Moving from the general to the specific, Jesus now describes what would happen to the disciples in their immediate future. “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me.”

The Book of Acts records for us how the disciples, as predicted, were brought before hostile religious leaders and persecuted for preaching the Gospel. In connection with kings and governors, we especially think of the Apostle Paul, who appeared before them in his court trials, and how this afforded him the opportunity to witness to the high and mighty of his day.

As far as being put to death, we think of all the Twelve disciples, with the exception of John who was afflicted in other ways, suffering a martyr’s death for the cause of Christ. Physical persecution for being a Christian was very real during those early days of the Church; at times a capital crime. But rather than eradicate Christianity, it grew. As the early Church father Tertullian correctly observed: The blood of martyrs became the seed of the church.

What kept those disciples and early Christians going? What spurred them on toward love and good deeds in the face of opposition and persecution? First and foremost, the understanding of what Jesus Christ had accomplished for them through his life, death and resurrection: the forgiveness of their sins and the guarantee of life in heaven. But also this word of promise and encouragement from Jesus in the final words of our text: But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.

What Jesus told his original disciples they could expect in their day is just as applicable for us as his disciples in our day. And what we can expect can perhaps be summarized by three general principles drawn from these words of Jesus. We’ll spend just a minute or two developing each one…

Principle #1: We can expect to be marked by and for our allegiance to Jesus Christ – and not always in a good way.

Being a Christian and holding a Christian worldview in a Christian setting is easy. But being a Christian and holding a Biblical worldview in a rapidly growing non-Christian world is hard. And it’s getting harder.

At one time the morals and values drawn from the Bible were considered as the standard currency for a civil society, and those who upheld them – despite their failure to sometimes practice what they preached – were nonetheless viewed as beacons of virtue. Judging from how it is often cast in the media, now Biblical Christianity is frequently considered to be oppressive and even hateful, and those aligned with it (like us) have become targets.

Consequently, if you speak up for the unborn… if you uphold marriage and family as God instituted it in his Word… if you claim salvation is through Christ alone… if you resist the gender identity activism that is going on in our public schools and universities… you may very well become a target of the world’s derision, minimized and dismissed. And maybe you’ve experienced that. Maybe even within your own family or circle of acquaintances.

Jesus’ message to us today is: Don’t be surprised. Rather expect it. It’s a sign of the times. And it’s another foreshadowing that we are living in the end times.

But this leads us to principle #2: This is not a time to shrink back, but an opportunity to “bear testimony to me,” says Jesus. So expect to have the opportunity to testify.

Testimony can take different forms, depending upon the circumstances. The trick is sometimes knowing what form to take. There are times when we will speak up, even when we are in the minority and defend the cause of Christ when it comes under attack. Other times our testimony may take the form of silence or non-involvement in activities or positions that oppose God’s Word.

But when we do have the opportunity to testify, we will want to follow the divinely inspired counsel from the Apostle Paul and speak with language that is “seasoned with salt,” reflecting God’s grace. And we do so with the confidence that Jesus will use our words for his purposes. Sometimes that may bring about a change in the thinking of those we engage; other times our testimony may only confirm others in their ungodly position. We leave the results to God.

What Jesus simply tells us is that in these end times we will have a chance to bear witness to and for him. That’s a privilege.

And we can do this with the expectation – and this is principle #3 – that Jesus will support us. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life. This is a confidence booster. And we are reminded that although there is and will be opposition, in the words of the Apostle Paul to the Romans, “if God is for us, who can be against us.” Meaning, as far as we’re concerned, the individual believer plus Jesus constitutes a majority.

Yes indeed. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. And today Jesus tells us not to be surprised by the direction the world is going, but to be prepared on how we understand the signs of the time.

What can we expect? We can expect to be challenged. We can expect to have the opportunity to testify about our faith and our Christian worldview. And we can expect to be supported by the Savior, who lived, died and rose again, so we might live with him forever in glory. Until that time, it our wish to do nothing else than to represent him well. God grant it. Amen.