Christ Covenant Church
Rev. Marq Toombs
23 September 2018
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost / Ordinary Time

Listen to sermons on Media Player or iTunes

A brief word about the title of the sermon — It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I feel Fine).

Luke 17:20-37

20 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
22 And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. 24 For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. 26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—30 so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife. 33 Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. 34 I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. 35 There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” 37 And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”

Few texts have been as mishandled and misunderstood as this one.

A few years ago New Age gurus used it to teach people to look within themselves for the meaning and purpose of life because (according to one Bible translation / the KJV) Jesus said, “the kingdom of God is within you.”

To this day some false prophets and pastors try to predict the coming of the Lord. Despite Jesus’s warning they fix dates and tell us to look here or there for signs of his coming.

Finally, there is no limit to the number of people who believe that Jesus could come back at any second, all of sudden like a flash of lightening. But most of those same people live and act as if he probably won’t do it today.

This text and others like it fired my imagination when I was a child.

I recall standing on a soccer field with a friend one afternoon. Ominous clouds were forming above our heads but a bright ray of sunlight broke through them and shone light a spotlight on our practice field. My friend stared in awe and said, “You know what this means?! Jesus is coming — Jesus is coming back for us!” I wondered how in the world he knew that and he  mentioned this text. “The Bible says Jesus’s coming will be like lightening flashes in the sky.” To which I said, “Okay, but that’s just sunlight.” He glared at me then ran off to play soccer. We were in fourth grade!

When I was a freshmen in High School, I had a friend that I really cared about. He was sort of like an older brother or cousin to me. Anyways, he was a really good guy, but he had gotten mixed up with some bad guys and started down a dark path where he was getting into trouble. One day we were walking through a field to go play war games in the woods near a creek. (Yeah, we were nerdy like that.) Anyways, all of a sudden I remembered something from the Gospels about two people walking in a field and one being taken and the other left. I felt a jolt of sadness and stress in my heart. I felt certain that Jesus was going to jump out of the sky and surprise us all at any moment, any day now, and one of us was going to be saved, the other was going to be lost. I was so scared for my friend that I prayed on more than one occasion that God would take my friend even if it meant leaving me. (I did not know back then that to be taken was actually bad and to be left was actually good.) I just knew that I wanted God to save my friend. To my knowledge he has not saved him yet.

As I said earlier, few texts have been as mishandled and misunderstood as this one. Some of us know by personal experience how that can affect one’s life- and worldview.

But what if I told you that this message is not about the end of the world as we know it — but the end of the old world as they knew it.

This is a message about the end of the world of Judah and Jerusalem.

Notice that Jesus puts a time stamp on this teaching.

He tells when these things will take place, what will take place, and where they will take place.

When will these things take place?

They will take place within a generation — soon after Jesus’s crucifixion and his ascension.

For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

What things will take place? 

God will judge the city of Jerusalem and the land of Judah.

Noah – Genesis 6

26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.

According to Genesis 6, the moral decay and spiritual devolution of the human race became unbearable even to the Lord God.

Rampant marital corruption, physical violence, and sexual confusion were the major sins that provoked the Lord God to judge the world and wipe it clean.

Darrin Aronofsky’s strange film on Noah actually depicts all this quite well. By the time the rain starts to fall even moviegoers want the wicked to perish outside the ark.

Noah was a preacher of righteousness who stood against the rising tide of moral decay and spiritual decline in his generation.

The Book of Hebrews says: “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”

When God’s judgment fell from the sky, it was swift and steady and severe. So will it be in the days of the Son of Man.

Lot – Genesis 19

28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—30 so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.

According to the Book of Genesis, the city of Sodom was a wicked place. It was like the Amsterdam or Las Vegas of the Ancient Near East.

In Genesis 19, two angels disguised as men went down to Sodom to see if things were as bad as the outcry that had reached heaven. Abraham’s nephew Lot met them at the city gate and since the sun was going down he took them into his house and showed them hospitality.

Before they lay down to rest for the night, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house.

And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them [carnally / sexually].”

Lot went out to the mob of men and made them an unspeakable offer — to give them his virgin daughters to use as they pleased.

But they flat out rejected his offer.

Instead, they threatened to gang rape Lot, break down the door, and have their way with his house guests.

What started out as a gay pride rally escalated into a gay pride riot.

But the angels disguised as men rescued Lot. (Genesis 19:4-11)

Now, the citizens of Sodom were wicked and evil: they were inhospitable to strangers; they promoted a sexually perverse agenda; they preferred unnatural sexual relations to natural sexual relations; they were violent and aggressive.

For all those reasons and more, the angels disguised as men unleashed the wrath and fury of the Lord on Sodom and totally destroyed it. They went scorched earth on that wicked city.

The Lord rained hellfire and brimstone down from heaven and turned Sodom into smoke and ash. Sodom became an example of what God will do to the ungodly and wicked.

When God’s judgment fell from the sky, it was swift and steady and severe. So will it be in the days of the Son of Man.

Now, I must point out that in Luke 17, Jesus did not mention how crooked and depraved Noah and Lot’s generations were as I have done.

But, if you think about it, Jesus’s approach is actually much scarier and more sobering than my approach. Why?

Because instead of talking about all the wretched things all those wicked people did in their generation, Jesus talked about all the ordinary, innocent, and routine things those people were doing when judgment came upon them.

They were watching Netflix and football games, working hard and raising kids, and going to school, taking trips, and mowing lawns, and getting groceries, and making friends, and so on. Just like us.

Jesus’s approach collapses the distance between then and now, between us and them.

This keeps Jesus’s hearers from thinking those people were judged because they were so much worse than we are. And it makes Jesus’s hearers see that even ordinary folks, living ordinary lives, and doing ordinary things (just like us!) were swept away in judgment.

So will it be in the days of the Son of Man — in this generation! 

Who is this Son of Man? He is the Christ-figure mentioned in Daniel 7.

I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.

The Son of Man was the Savior the Jews were looking for even in Jesus’s generation. Sadly, they did not recognize Jesus as the Son of Man.

But that is who he was. That is how he knew that, the Son of Man was going to come on the clouds in a storm of judgment, suddenly and swiftly, like a lightning flash in the sky.

He will not announce the time and date of his coming in advance. He will come in judgment whether the generation is ready or not.

Now, everyone who perished in the floodwater or hellfire were sinners, but no one who perished was as sinful as they could have been. Some of those folks were probably decent people, like most of the people in Jesus’s generation. Like us!

Jesus told these Old Testament stories to warn his followers about what was going to take place, when it was going to take place, and where it was going to take place.

The coming of the Son of Man in judgment (described here) was going to take place in Judea and Jerusalem.

Judea and Jerusalem

Since many of the people in that generation were still going to be alive and active in and around Judea and Jerusalem in the days of the Son of Man, Jesus gives special and practical instructions to his disciples.

31 On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife.

33 Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.

In context, seeking to preserve his life means putting up resistance, trying to protect your stuff, and fighting against the Roman Army.

But, losing his life means seeing the advancing Roman army and leaving everything behind — your house, your goods, your field, your stuff. Just get the hell outta there as fast as you can.

The calls to take up your cross and follow Jesus were intended to help people prepare their hearts and minds for the day of the Lord, a day of crisis, catastrophe, and condemnation.

34 I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. 35 There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.”

Some think that being taken was a good thing, like the way Enoch and Elijah walked with God and were taken away.

But here, in this context, taken is a bad thing.

It refers to being captured, enslaved, or killed (by the Romans); being left is a better things. It refers to being permitted to stay alive as a survivor, as a remnant of God’s people.

Where will these things take place? 

This is the question raised by Jesus’s disciples.

37 And they said to him, “Where, Lord?”

His answer is sobering. He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” (Literally, where there is a body, there the eagles will gather.” 

This gives us some insight into the way God saw the Jerusalem and Judea and the Jewish nation.

Jerusalem and Judea was the dead corpse — laid low in the wasteland — a nation of dry bones scattered in the valley of the shadow of death.

The Roman Military Industrial Complex were the vultures (lit. eagles) that surrounded the city and devoured it. The Eagle was the Standard Emblem of the Roman Military.

Due to an unfortunate chapter break the reader of Luke might stop at 17:37 instead of continuing on to 18:1ff.

*And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart…*

Stopping at 17:37 leaves the reader in death and despair. Going to 18:1 urges the reader to hope and pray for justice. Rest assured: the Judge of all the earth will do the right thing for the elect. Let the reader understand.*

Who shall be saved?

All who walk by grace through faith in Christ shall be saved from the coming storm of judgment.

Just as Noah and Lot were saved from the waters and fires of judgment only because they found favor in the eyes of the Lord, so too, when the Son of Man came to judge Jerusalem and Judah, all who found favor in his eyes were saved from the judgment. 

The same holds true for us.

When the Lord Jesus Christ comes to judge the living and the dead, only the elect will stand by grace through faith in Christ. The rest will fall. 

* The widow pleaded with the judge for justice in the same way that Abraham pleaded with YHWH for justice. In both stories justice was served.

Likewise, we ought to plead with God in prayer for the true and better justice promised by the Lord Jesus Christ in Luke 4:17-21.