Luke 21:25-36 (click to display NIV text)
December 2, 2012 (First Sunday in Advent)
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
What was it like to be a follower of Jesus in the early years of the church? The disciples and others watched him be crucified in the year 33. Soon after the beginning of the church, they began to experience opposition and persecution, from the Jewish leaders, then from local communities, and finally from the Romans. During the 60’s there were rebellions, and messianic figures came predicting the end of the world and calling the people to arms. Then in 70, the Romans formed a siege around Jerusalem and waited for them to starve. They destroyed Jerusalem and burned the temple. Josephus wrote of the burning of the temple, “Now many who were emaciated and tongue-tied from starvation, when they beheld the sanctuary on fire, gathered strength once more for lamentations and wailing.” This was a very difficult time to live, filled with anxiety and deep grief. They felt the earth shaking, their security was torn away, and it seemed like all hope was lost.
Just before Jesus was crucified, when he came into Jerusalem, he went to the temple and spoke very honestly about what was to come. In 20 B.C., Herod the Great began the project of rebuilding the temple, doubling its size and making it an astonishing building with gold, marble and precious stones. When Jesus went to the cross, the building project was over 50 years old, and yet it would not be completed until A.D. 64. So it was just 6 years old when the Romans destroyed it, and it had been built for the ages. Jesus then speaks very honestly about what is to come.
This passage, Luke 21, is filled with scriptural allusions and puzzling phrases concerning the end of time. It can be summarized in three topics. First, Jesus tells the people that those who follow him will be persecuted. But he gives them the assurance of his presence through the persecution. He says they will have opportunity to bear witness to him, and he will give them words to say when they are on trial. He says that nothing will happen to them apart from God’s view. He calls then to endure, and to be faithful, for he is with them. Persecution becomes an opportunity to know the presence of the Lord.
Next, he says that Jerusalem will be destroyed. Since the temple was the central symbol of the Jewish people, its destruction brought about a loss of security and a loss of identity. We cannot imagine how deeply they felt about the loss of this structure. Jesus tells them it will happen as divine judgment, and that the city will be trampled by the Romans, a Gentile army. But even in the depth of this loss, they can know it is part of God’s greater purpose. This does not mean the end; rather, it is a limited time of destruction, and God’s purposes will continue to be carried out.
Finally, Jesus speaks about the signs of the end, the cosmic signs bringing the Day of the Lord. The heavens will be shaken, the sea will roar and then the Son of Man, spoken of in Daniel, will appear in a cloud. Here, at a time of greatest fear, Jesus tells them to be confident and to look up. Jesus is the Son of Man. The Day of the Lord, which is described in the Old Testament as a Day of Judgment, will in fact be their day of redemption. Even when the very earth is shaking, the Lord is with them, and is drawing near. So this passage is primarily about assurance and peace. The Lord is near, even when the world suffers a great cataclysm. David Tiede says that even in this vision of the unraveling of the fabric of the universe with heavenly and earthly manifestations, there is the assurance in the words of Jesus that the coming of the Son of Man will be a drawing near to redemption. Darrell Bock writes that in the Old Testament there is a conviction that God’s justice is not fulfilled in wrath. Redemption is the last word.
So as Jesus talks about very difficult things, about future events of suffering and tumult and struggle, about events that would shake the security of a nation, he talks about his presence and he talks about drawing near and not about abandonment. He says he will be near in faithful witness during opposition. He will be near when security fails. He will be near when judgment comes. He will be near when the world shakes. He says the Day of the Lord will be your day of redemption.
Then, at the end of the prophecy, Jesus speaks some pastoral words. He encourages his followers to live lives of prayer and readiness, to be vigilant and to carry an expectant faith. David Tiede writes, “Jesus redirects the attention of the faithful to attend to the present. He counsels sobriety, watchfulness and prayer, now.”
That is the message for Advent. In the midst of our own anxieties, in the midst of news around the world that causes us to worry and wonder about the future, in the midst of trial and even suffering, the Lord calls us to pray and to be about the work of the Kingdom. He is present with us. His peace is available for us.
What did the followers of Jesus do, after they heard these words and after they experienced some of the shaking of their world? Some men who called themselves Messiahs called on the people to take up arms and fight. Some of the people must have become so discouraged and overwhelmed with life that they turned to drunkenness and carousing to escape the pain. Some got caught up in trying to predict when the end would come.
But Jesus sent his followers into a very shaky world with Good News. Joel Green writes, “Those who came in the name of Jesus proclaimed the message of repentance and forgiveness, not the timing of the eschaton.” We just finished reading through the letters of Paul. What did he do? He lived in the chaos of the day, and he proclaimed the Gospel. He brought a message of hope and forgiveness and reconciliation to the world.
The season of Advent is the season of the presence of the Lord. We pray. We watch. We wait. We do the will of God. We open our hearts to his peace. The table is a place where we experience the presence of the Lord, so we can live by prayer and faith in an anxious world.
“Come Lord Jesus, come and be born in our hearts.”