Message Manuscript of “Are We All Doomed?” Luke 21:5-19
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, November 19, 2013
Audio of the sermon is here.
We’re all doomed! is the lead phrase of a post on the website www.waitingforison.com, which is getting a lot of attention right now. It is about the comet ISON, currently visible from earth an hour before sunrise in the next few mornings. Once you go to the site, you can see that its owner doesn’t really believe ISON is bringing the end of the world. His picture here shows he and his kitty really shouldn’t be taken seriously. He does, however, note the people and groups out there who do think the appearance of the comet is sign of the end of the world and effectively pokes fun at their doomsday behavior. What, though, if he is wrong, and they are right about the end of the world? Don’t we all worry just a bit about the end of the world when we see calamities, wars, disasters and diseases of Biblical proportions?
Our Gospel text this morning reminds us that our interpretation of events and anxiety about the end of the world are nothing new. The people of Jesus’ time did this as well. And, here in Luke 21:5-19, Jesus gave them some descriptions of a doomsday to come, but provided them with a reason and way to endure the things that were about to happen.
The graphic description of doom Jesus gave his crowd that day at the Temple still causes anxiety and get plenty of attention. It’s not just the dispensational end-timers like Tim Lahaye or John Hagee who give these words attention. We all do in some way, especially when typhoons, earthquakes, mudslides, 9-11, and nuclear tests are being done. You can just imagine how these apocalyptic words were heard by the original audience, as someone as authoritative and charismatic as Jesus was saying them. So far, everything else Jesus said and did had been true for so many in the crowd. Even his opponents had to concede that what he was saying and doing ringed true. What they are hearing from him, who was leading them and showed he knew the way ahead for them, was that a doomsday was ahead. Hear again his words, Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. These are not exactly the words of an effective recruiter, seeking followers for a cause. They are words intended to clarify for his disciples and for his critics that there would be difficult days ahead for them. If you followed him, you would be treated in the same way he was and would soon be treated. If you opposed him and what God was doing in and through him in the world, then you would have difficult days as well, at the hands of the Roman government. Jesus clarified that bad days were inevitable, even for the Son of God.
As Luke wrote this gospel, around 75-80 AD, 10 years after the doomsday Jesus predicted had happened, his readers were still struggling with the fallout of it as their families were divided, as they were imprisoned, and as they were executed. They are the ones enduring in in their faith, facing the consequences of being associated with Jesus. Luke shared Jesus’ words with them that they might know that such days weren’t out of the norm when God’s kingdom and the world’s kingdom collide.
I couldn’t help but hear the Shirelle’s song, Momma Said There’d Be Days Like This in my head after reading this several times this week. Mama was right. And so was Jesus. Jesus said there’d be days like this. And there were. And there still are.
We need to hear the same thing today, to understand that being a follower of Jesus doesn’t give us an exemption from difficult days. Just because you belong to Jesus and the church doesn’t mean your world won’t come tumbling down into a pile of rubble. Just because you do selfless good works, love your neighbor, and honor God in all things doesn’t mean that you will escape suffering in this world. In case we are convinced by others or ourselves that the Christian life is one of prosperity and comfort, let us hear from Jesus today that this is not true. Let us see in Jesus that this was not true, as even he, the Son of God, was arrested, tortured, framed, and crucified. He endured through it all. Knowing that he did and that doomsdays are inevitable can help us endure them as well. Knowing that they are coming; knowing to be ready helps.
Jesus didn’t leave the crowd with the gory details of what would happen, but provided them with something they could cling to in their darkest days. He assured them, much as he must have been assuring himself, that God would be with them. He said, “I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict, ” and “not a hair of your head will perish” to give them something to remember in their time of trial. We can look throughout Acts and see how this came true for followers like Peter, Stephen, Paul and others. God gave them what they needed to operate as the body of Christ in the world, even in the worst of circumstances.
William Barclay, in his commentary on Luke, describes the quality of life for those who endure suffering with Christ, It is the sheer evidence of history that the great Christians have written over and over again, when their bodies were in torture and when they were awaiting death, of sweet times with Christ. A prison can be like a palace, a scaffold like a throne, the storms of like like summer weather, when Christ is with us. (The Gospel of Luke, William Barclay, p.259)
Have you experienced that kind of assurance when your world is crumbling? Jesus has made clear that we can; that we can know that we have something we can take with us in our darkest days. First, you can know you have God’s wisdom and words with you. God provides for you the wisdom of Jesus in handling the tumbling walls, the persecution, the discouragement, the disappointment, and the pain. He gives you words to say when people oppose you for following his ways; when you are left speechless by the way you or someone else is being treated. Second, you take with you his protection. Even though your body may be harmed and you, like so many of the early disciples, may not escape physical death, no one can touch your life, that part of you that endures, which shall endure unscathed.
This leads us to the last word of this apocalyptic message. Jesus told his followers that, By your endurance you will gain your souls. They would find and experience real life if they endured on through the doom around them. Just on the other side of the doom was justice. Just on the other side was righteousness. Just on the other side was God’s kingdom. Just on the other side was peace. Just on the other side was a new heaven and a new earth. Here, Jesus presented the great reversal Luke has highlighted throughout his gospel. Those who die to themselves and live for Jesus receive true life.
What a positive truth to know when your world is tumbling down around you: there is something on the other side. As you go through the difficulty, you are not losing, but gaining. You are winning, even if the scoreboard says otherwise. What you can know as you, like Luke’s readers, look back upon the death of Jesus is to see his resurrection. Yes, there is still persecution, suffering, and even death, but there is also life. Life, your real life, cannot be snuffed out by what you are going through. As you endure, your life endures and shines brighter than any day of doom.
The hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” was written by Martin Luther in 1527, just ten years after his posting of 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg. (Source: Illustrations, Preachingtoday.com) As he reflected on all that happened in those 10 years and to the personal struggles he was facing, he wrote one of the most profound and helpful hymns of all time. I close today with a few lines from it:
And though this world with devils filled
should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God has willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim? We tremble not for him.
His rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure.
One little Word shall fell him.
Doomed? Are we all doomed? No. God has indeed willed his triumph through us. May you exit into your week with this same great affirmation.