Christ Covenant Church
Rev. Marq Toombs
21 October 2018
Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost / Ordinary Time
“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”
This is what Chicken Little cried when an acorn fell from a tree and hit her on the head. She ran to tell the lion about it. On her way to find him she ran into several other friends and warned them, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” Together they went to tell the lion, but they did not know where to find him. A sly fox offered to help them. She said,
He walks on and on until he comes to his den.
– Come right in, – says Foxey Loxey.
They all go in,
but they never, never come out again.
Many people come to Luke 21 and run away like Chicken Little crying, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” And like her, many end up deceived and trapped by foxy teachers.
“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”
That is not the right response to Jesus’ teaching. As we will see, Jesus expected his followers respond with faith and hope, not hysteria and frenzy.
But first I want to point out that Jesus drew a lot of attention to this prediction of his coming in a cloud with power and glory — and he “hung an awful lot of his own credibility” (Sproul) on this prediction about the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in that generation.
Jesus expected all these things to be fulfilled within forty years of his prediction.
If all these things did not happen as Jesus prophesied and predicted, then Jesus was a false prophet. If he was a false prophet, he must not be trusted or obeyed at all.
But, if all these things did happen as Jesus prophesied and predicted, then Jesus was a true prophet. If he is a true prophet, he must be trusted and obeyed in all things.
So, with that as a backdrop, I ask you to stand and pay close attention to words of our Lord Jesus Christ from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 21.
Since it is more important for us to hear the words of Christ than the words of the pastor about the words of Christ, I will read all of Luke 21:5-36.
The word of the Lord.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but the words of Jesus Christ will never pass away.
May God bless the reading, the preaching, and the hearing of his word.
We will explore three points.
Pastoral Charge. Prophetic Insights. Practical Applications.
1. PASTORAL CHARGE
Before Jesus answered the disciples’ questions, he gave them some pastoral encouragements and warnings.
Jesus instructed them to be dogmatic — by which I mean discerning, disciplined, devout, and determined.
Jesus instructed them to be discerning. (21:8, 20, 31, 34)
Jesus warned his disciples about a coming uptick in the number of political turmoils, natural disasters, and religious imposters.
In the midst of all that, the disciples will experience strong opposition and severe persecution.
These were all the little signs that led up to the big Sign of Jesus’ coming in a cloud with power and glory in judgment.
The disciples were going have to keep their heads on a swivel and pay close attention to the world around them.
The big Sign to look for was the armies of Rome encircling and besieging the city of Jerusalem. That was the big Sign that marked the end of the Jewish age and the destruction of the temple.
That was the big Sign of the coming of Jesus in a cloud of power and glory for vengeance and vindication.
Jesus instructed them to be disciplined. (21:12-16, 34)
Jesus knew that his disciples were going to pressured and persecuted.
Jesus knew what they were in for, but instead of fudging it over, he re-framed the story:
This will be your opportunity (lit. come down from; turn out) to bear witness.
Instead of calculating their responses or composing pre-meditated apologies or carefully prepared defenses, Jesus urged them to do something more difficult:
Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer. Why?
For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to speak or stand against.
We know from the Book of Acts that Jesus was true to his word because the apostles spoke above and beyond their natural abilities and educational achievements by the power of the Spirit of Christ.
When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13-14)
Jesus instructed them to be devout (21:8, 9, 19, 28, 36)
Jesus told them what to expect personally and existentially in their very near future. They were each going to have their allegiance and devotion to Jesus challenged in many different ways: by religious leaders, by social and political forces, by family and friends.
First, by religious leaders. Jesus warned his disciples in advance that many false teachers were going to rise and try to lead people astray in the name of Jesus. He also warned them that the Jewish leaders were going to do them as they did to him. They will lay their hands on them and persecute them and hand them over to the synagogues and prisons.
Next, by social and political forces. He warned them that national and cultural upheavals were coming. The whole world was about to be rocked hard. The Romans will bring them up before kings and governors for his name’s sake.
Finally, by family and friends. Jesus warned his disciples that even their own kinsmen — parents and brothers and relatives and friends — will hand them over and that some of them will be put to death. This warning tugs at your heart-strings.
This echoes other warnings Jesus gave throughout the gospel:
“I came to cast fire on the earth…Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house…they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (12:49-53)
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27)
We know from the Book of Acts that all these things started breaking upon the apostles within two months after Jesus gave these warnings and continued for the next forty years.
Those disciples were despised and rejected, imprisoned and threatened, flogged and stoned, persecuted and beheaded. And, from extra-biblical historical sources, we know that some were even crucified.
Very few made it to what we consider retirement age.
In other words, for them taking up the cross and following Jesus got real in a hurry.
Jesus instructed them to be determined (21:17)
The disciples were headed into a firestorm. They were going to face various trials and temptations. Temptations to cave in, turn back, peace out because of the fiery trials pressing upon them.
They were going forth as his messengers, his ministers, his mouthpieces. He expected them to be unflinching and unyielding in the face of trouble and trials.
This was not a mission for doubtful and despairing men, but for devout and discerning men — disciplined and determined men who would stand firm and stay the course no matter what.
All this was going to take place over the next forty years before the destruction of the temple and the fall of Jerusalem.
2. PROPHETIC INSIGHT
Jesus told his disciples that there would be many little signs leading up to a big Sign. The little signs are things like political turmoil, natural disasters, astral phenomena, religious imposters, and spiritual conflicts (aka, persecution).
Jesus was not just waxing poetic for shock value or resorting to scare tactics for effect. He wanted his disciples to know that this was a critical situation — a matter of life or death.
Like a prophetic covenant prosecutor, he was echoing the Law and the Prophets.
As it is written in the Law (Deuteronomy 28:45, 52-59) —
All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that he commanded you…They shall besiege you in all your towns, until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout all your land…And you shall eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you…If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God, then the Lord will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting.
And as it is written in the Prophets (Isaiah 13:6-10) —
Wail, for the day of the Lord is near;
as destruction from the Almighty it will come!
Therefore all hands will be feeble,
and every human heart will melt.
They will be dismayed:
pangs and agony will seize them;
they will be in anguish like a woman in labor.
They will look aghast at one another;
their faces will be aflame.
Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the land a desolation
and to destroy its sinners from it.
For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
and the moon will not shed its light.
These are gruesome pictures of what happened at Jerusalem in AD 70, forty years after Jesus predicted all these things would come to pass.
All throughout Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has been telling his disciples when and where and why these things were going to take place. (** see note below)
Again, Jesus drew a lot of attention to this prediction of his coming in a cloud with power and glory — and he “hung an awful lot of his own credibility” (Sproul) on this prediction about the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in that generation.
I know some folks are tempted to think “that was then, this is now, so what?” But this is an example of why Jesus’ prediction should matter to you.
Several years ago I was hanging out with a new friend. A book on his shelf caught my eye. Why I am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell, (a well-accomplished and influential British philosopher, mathematician, and activist of the 20th century). I had not thought of Russell for many years until a few days ago. I was listening to a fantastic lecture by the late RC Sproul. In it, he mentioned Bertrand Russell (and other critics) who said that one reason he was not a Christian was due to defects he saw in Jesus’ teaching. (Here is a pamphlet of a speech by Bertrand Russell addressing this matter.)
According to Russell, Jesus made specific claims and predictions in texts like Luke 21 that did not come to pass. Russell argues that since Jesus did not come in a cloud with power and glory in that generation as he predicted, he was not a superlatively wise and good teacher. Why? Because he was misleading at worst and mistaken at best.
Now, we believe Russell misunderstood how Jesus came in a cloud with power and glory and how all these other things came to pass. However, before anyone thinks, “Well, Russell’s opinion is just ridiculous!” I want us to tap the brakes and concede that he and critics like him are onto something important.
Remember: Jesus insisted emphatically that they were going to take place within one generation of his predictions — soon after his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension — within forty years.
If all these things did not happen as Jesus prophesied and predicted, then Jesus was a false prophet. If he was a false prophet, and he must not be trusted or obeyed at all.
But, if all these things did happen as Jesus prophesied and predicted (and they did!), then Jesus was a true prophet. If he is a true prophet, and he must be trusted and obeyed in all things.
Now, one of the ways we know that Jesus’ predictions came to pass in the time and place he predicted is this:
The Spirit of Christ illumines our hearts and minds and grants us faith. But that is deeply theological (and subjective / inside us).
Another way we know that Jesus’ predictions came to pass in the time and place he predicted is this:
The details with which Jesus predicted the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple were corroborated by two non-Christian historians — Tacitus and Josephus. That is more objective / outside us.
As non-Christian historians, they had no knowledge of Jesus’ predictions and they had no reason to give evidence corroborate the details of it. But, (in God’s providence) they did that very thing.
After the Roman Army sacked, burned, and demolished the city of Jerusalem, these historians simply recorded what they saw and heard. Tacitus from a Roman perspective; Josephus from a Jewish perspective.
In his book The War of the Jews (aka, The Jewish War) Josephus describes with astonishing detail things Jesus said would come to pass. Here’s just one example: After describing some very strange astral phenomenon in the skies over Jerusalem, Josephus describes something strange that happened in the clouds around Jerusalem:
Besides these [signs in the heavens], a few days after the feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month, a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon occurred or appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals;
[Notice his hesitance to report what was seen and heard. But he presses on.]
for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities.
[He saw chariots of fire in the skies = angelic armies in the clouds. 2 Kings 2:11; 6:17]
Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, the priest said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, “Let us remove hence.”
[The same voice announced the glory of God departing from the temple and Jerusalem in a vision seen by Ezekiel the prophet Ezekiel 3:12; 10:3-5, 18-19 ]
Thus, the Son of Man did “come in a cloud with power and glory” just as Jesus said he would do.
“Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
This is significant for one massive reason. As Peter Leithart observes,
Jesus is not talking about the end of the whole universe, but about the end of a particular earthly and historical order…Jesus says that the destruction of the temple will enable the Jews to “see” or perceive that the Son of Man, Jesus, has been given all authority and power and dominion. The destruction of Jerusalem will be Jesus’ public vindication, proving that He was a prophet and more than a prophet.
3. PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS
Now, keep in mind that Luke’s Gospel was written in the early 60s AD, about 5-10 years before the destruction of the temple and the fall of Jerusalem. That’s important because it shows that Luke was not writing with 20/20 hindsight just to make Jesus’ words fit history. In fact, as we look back, we can see how history was shaped by the words of Christ.
The date of Luke’s Gospel is also important because it shows that Luke (like Matthew and Mark) wrote their Gospels to help prepare Jesus’ followers for the end of the age.
Think of the Gospels as a Survival Guide for the end of the Jewish world.
In Luke 21, Jesus gave his disciples instructions on how to live in the time leading up to his coming in judgment against Jerusalem. Watch out; don’t be led astray; don’t follow deceivers; don’t be terrified; watch yourselves; stay awake; pray.
For Jesus’ followers in that generation in the first century, living by faith meant believing that the coming of the Lord with power and glory was going to come to pass within a generation — forty years. For them, this was a matter of life or death, physically and spiritually.
What if anything does all this mean for us?
In principle, the same things hold true for us.
Today we have prayed the Lord’s prayer — “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In a moment we will recite the Apostles’ Creed — “he ascended into heaven, whence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.”
We believe that our Lord Jesus Christ will come again. That shapes and reshapes our life here and now. Eschatology shapes life, the future shapes the present.
So, how shall we live between now and the (final) Second coming of Christ?
What will you do with the rest of your life?
The Gospels are still our survival guide as we live, move, and exist in hopeful expectation of the second coming of Jesus Christ.
The instructions Jesus gave his disciples are just as applicable to us now and they were to them then:
Watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the cares of this life.
Don’t let your heart get bogged down in things that don’t matter. Don’t let your heart become comfortably numb. Don’t let your heart get rattled by the stuff of life.
As Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, “Be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. So, whatever you do, don’t go to sleep at the switch. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man.”
Stay awake at all times, praying that you may have the strength
(1) to escape judgment
(2) to stand before the Son of Man
Watch yourself and Watch for Jesus.
* Ever since Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem he has been warning people about the coming of the Son of Man in a blaze of glory (Luke 9:21, 22, 26, 27, 44, 45), preparing for his exodus (9:30-31; 17:24, 25; 18:31-34; 20:14-18), equipping his disciples (12:11-12, 35-37), weeping over Jerusalem (13:34-35; 19:41); teaching about his judgments (11:49-51; 12:38-40, 42-59; 13:28-30; 17:20-37; 19:43-45; 21:5-36)