The Final Act Again

Sermon 1830 Luke 21.5-19 November 13, 2022

During the last week of his life Jesus and the disciples were climbing out of the Kidron Valley east of Jerusalem. The sun was setting. The Temple was aglow. A disciple tugged on Jesus’ sleeve. They all should sit down for a moment to enjoy the view. “Look at that beautiful Temple--what a sight!” Jesus stunned them with his response. “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 (6).”

The disciples were shocked. How could such a thing be? That must be the end of the world, right? And if that weren’t the end of the world, how would we know the end of the world was really the end of the world? Since Jesus had been talking about leaving them, some wanted to know how they could be certain Jesus would come back for them. So they peppered Jesus with three rapid-fire questions. When will the Temple be destroyed? How do we know you are really coming back for us? How do we know the end is really the end?

Since some of you did not take my “The Last Time I Teach the Last Times” class (though I’ve offered it three times), I will give you a quick synopsis. What is the sign the Temple will be destroyed? When you see the Romans encircling the city with a trench and siege wall, get out, like, yesterday. How do we know the end is really the end? The sun will stop shining, the stars fall from the sky and you see the Son of Man coming like lightning from the east to the west. The Last Day has come.

Interesting as this is, one question has special significance to us. How do we know Jesus will really come back for us? It will affect how we live our lives. Do we live like Jesus will never return? Or do we live like Jesus can return before this sermon ends? No wonder our God keeps repeating the all-important answer regarding the end.

The Final Act Again

1. Things will be bad (8-11).

2. Things will get worse (12, 16-17).

3. God will bring us through (13-15, 18-19).

“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. When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven (8-11).”

How do we know Jesus will come back for us? How do we know we won’t be left behind like orphans? Jesus gave us signs that would happen before he would return. It’s like a play where everything comes to a head in the final act. Only this act is repeated, again and again, so we can’t miss it.

Things will be bad. There will be religious shysters, some even with the guts to say they are the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Three guys claimed to be the Messiah while the Romans were besieging Jerusalem in 70 AD. But they weren’t. In the 1600s Sabbathai Zvi, a Jew living in modern Turkey claimed to be the Messiah. But then he converted to Islam. The Wacko from Waco—David Koresh claimed to be the Second Coming of Christ. You may remember his death in 1993 when ATF personnel raided his Branch Davidian compound.

There will be wars. Napoleonic Wars. World War I and II. The Korean War. The Yemeni civil war. The special military operation in Ukraine. When hasn’t there been wars? There will be revolutions. The American, the French, the Orange, the Velvet, the Rose revolutions. It never ends.

Earthquakes—did you hear about the 5.9 shaker in San Jose the last week in October? Looks like famine again in the Horn of Africa, especially since the harvest in Ukraine has been seriously damaged by war. And Pakistan is still recovering from this year’s flood that covered a tenth of their country and destroyed or damaged three million homes. And the Mississippi and Colorado rivers so low? What’s next? A killer asteroid hiding in the glare of the sun? Wait, they’ve found one.

All of these things have been happening throughout history. You can’t pinpoint any war or famine or solar eclipse and say this proves the world is going to end on such and such a date. That’s not the point. The point is that they are reminders, text messages, if you will, from Jesus that he is on his way to bring us with him in heaven. He hasn’t forgotten us. It’s nice to have those constant reminders. Every blood-curdling headline you read or every heart-stopping lead story our favorite anchorman reads, supply this sub-headline, “And Jesus is Coming Back for Me.”

The final act again. Things will be bad, but then, things will get worse!

“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. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me (13, 16-17).”

It doesn’t get bad until you bring the work home with you. I didn’t know that with my first congregation. I’d get up from the dinner table to feed the printer! How Karen stayed married to me, I don’t know, I was such a terrible time manager. I owe her a lot. Now, when I am home, I am home. But the final act again is not that nice. It will hit home for Christians. Their own church will turn against them. Their own government will turn against them. Their own family will turn against them. Everything that shows us “where we fit in” will be telling us we can’t fit in. Everywhere that we look for our “place in the world,” will be pulled out from under us. And, yes, I think of Martin Luther who was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church of his childhood and declared by his own government an outlaw whom anyone could murder with impunity. I think of Christians back in the Soviet Union or today’s Communist China who were turned in to the authorities by their own flesh and blood. But most of all, I think of Jesus, mistreated by his own, how his own church convicted him, how his own government unjustly executed him.

And they thought they were doing the right thing. They thought they were doing God a favor. We had no such lofty reasons when we were beating up little brother, tattling on big brother, making fun of our parents behind their backs when we were with friends. We didn’t say a peep when Dad blamed the ding on the car on Mom. Just because the betrayals were minor league, that doesn’t make them less damnable. More than a few siblings confided to each other in their thirties, “I really didn’t like you until I got out of college.”

That’s why Jesus took the blame for us when he hung on the cross. He was singled out for punishment so we could skate free. He had every right to rat us out, to claim it wasn’t fair—it wasn’t fair. He could have thrown us under the bus if there was anything left of us after he justly threw us under the steam roller. But he didn’t. He died for us, silent as a sheep led to the slaughter.

No wonder none of the bad news getting worse is to throw us for a loop.

“This all will result in your being witnesses to them. 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. Not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life (13-15, 18-19).”

What is the result? What did Jesus promise the outcome would be for us? Death? Destruction? Unspeakable suffering and sorrow? No! A thousand times no! The result would be that we would be his witnesses. The high and the mighty would hear about Jesus, even though they spent every Sunday morning at the all-you-could drink Mimosa brunch. The believers would not even have to lose a lot of sleep wondering how they should defend themselves. Jesus would give them the words to speak. That’s why the Jewish religious leaders were amazed when the disciples gave an eloquent defense of themselves, though they were simple fishermen. The High Priest noted “these men had been with Jesus (Acts 4.13).” That’s why Paul held the Roman governor spell-bound when he told of his conversion and God’s plan of salvation which led to a life of godliness and self-control. Then Felix, the Roman governor, practically got the shakes as Paul told him about the judgment to come. “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient I will send for you (Acts 24.25.)” Felix never found the time again.

I know you have had your moments, too, when you said exactly what needed to be said to someone who sneered at the thought of someone rising from the dead. You spoke the words that Jesus gave you to speak when you stood up for a friend, a relative, being ridiculed for their faith-life. You held your own then and you deserve to hold your head high right now, though, knowing how Christians live, so much water has flowed under the bridge you can’t even remember it. Jesus said that would happen, too, that your right hand wouldn’t know what your left was doing!

But it goes farther than “forever” moments. “By standing firm you will gain life.” As we stand by the Savior, the Savior stands by us. He strengthens his hold on us. He makes our faith trust in him even more. It is as if our spot in heaven has been reserved, confirmed and paid for in advance. It will never be taken away.

Do we need all these reminders? A generation ago I would have been tempted to say, “No.” But for over three years I saw how Pastor Kolander and the new generation worked. He emailed everybody a day before class started to remind them. During COVID for the online class he texted/emailed everybody fifteen minutes before class! So I did, too, when I was running the classes online. People forget. People are busy. People over 20 get old and absent-minded! So I am told. So with every daily newspaper, with every evening news, Jesus reminds us that he is coming back again. He is coming back to save us. He is coming back to take us to heaven. But until he comes back, we are going to do some amazing things, so don’t fear. Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing.

The Final Act Again

1. Things will be bad (8-11).

2. Things will get worse (12, 16-17).

3. God will bring us through (13-15, 18-19).

Do you see all these beautiful mountains? We’ve got the best sunsets in the world, I think. And the mansions on the hill? Watch out Malibu—soon we will have you beat!

But the day is coming when none of these things remain. Heaven and earth will pass away. The very elements will melt in the heat. It has to give way because something better is coming. Your eternal home, my eternal home, the home of righteousness, is coming. Oh, how we long for that great, great day!

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