Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder
November 17, 2013, Pentecost XXVI
Isaiah 65:17-25, Psalm 98:1-6, II Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19
From the Prophet Isaiah:
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.
From the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians:
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us;
And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
And as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
Have you ever tried to make a prediction? Here are some from the past. All from people who were trusted individuals:
Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, in 1943 said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
Popular Mechanics magazine in 1949 made this prediction: “Where a calculator on the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator) is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and weigh only 1.5 tons.”
The Decca Recording Co. made a big mistake when they made this prediction: “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” That was their prediction in 1962 concerning a few lads from Liverpool, England. Their band was called the Beatles.
In our Gospel reading this morning, we have Jesus and His disciples in the Temple. Now it was the disciples’ turn to ask Jesus some questions!
It all started with the arrival in the temple of a poor widow with an offering for the Lord (Luke 21:1-4). We should all be familiar with this passage and it would be an excellent stewardship message, but that’s next week. Compared to the gifts of the rich men, her two copper coins seemed insignificant, but Jesus said that she gave more than all the others combined. “The widow’s mite” does not represent the least we can give, but the most, our very all. When we sing, “Take my silver and my gold/Not a mite will I withhold,” we are telling God that everything we have belongs to Him.
When it comes to our giving, God sees more than the portion; He also sees the proportion. Men see what is given, but God sees what is left, and by that He measures the gift and the condition of our hearts. Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” It’s something to think about for next Sunday.
The temple in Jerusalem was a beautiful structure, embellished with many costly decorations that a poor widow could never give, and the disciples mentioned this to Jesus. But our Lord was not impressed. He told them that the day would come when the beautiful Jewish temple would be demolished (Luke 21:5-6). He had already announced that the city would be destroyed (Luke 19:41-44), but now He specifically mentioned the destruction of the temple.
Jesus’ prediction that a structure so immense would be leveled to the ground seemed implausible. But they pressed Jesus for more information. In their voice was fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear that their lives were about to change forever. Jesus had not made any predictions like this one. This was different. This, they could understand.
Forty years later Jesus’ prediction came true. In 70 AD the Temple was destroyed by Rome. If this prediction came true, would not the other predictions of Jesus come true as well?
Jesus left the temple and went to the Mount of Olives, and there Peter, James, and John asked Him three questions: (1) When would the temple be destroyed? (2) What would be the sign of His coming? (3) What would be the sign of the end of the age?
The disciples thought that these three events would occur at the same time, but Jesus explained things differently. Actually, the temple would be destroyed first, and then there would be a long period of time before He would return and establish His kingdom on earth. Our Lord’s reply comprises what we call “The Olivet Discourse,” the greatest prophetic sermon He ever preached.
Keep in mind that this was a message given to Jews by a Jew about the future of the Jewish nation. Though there are definite applications to God’s people today, the emphasis is on Jerusalem, the Jews, and the temple.
Our Lord was not discussing His coming for the church, for that can occur at any time and no signs need precede it (1 Cor. 15:51-58; 1 Thes. 4:13-18). “For the Jews require a sign” (1 Cor. 1:22); the church looks for a Saviour (Phil. 3:20-21).
The sermon focuses on a period in God’s program called “the Tribulation” when God will pour out His wrath on the nations of the world. Some scholars believe that the Tribulation will begin after the Lord comes in the air and takes His church to heaven (1 Thes. 4:13-5:11). It will climax with the return of Jesus Christ to the earth, at which time He will defeat His foes and establish His kingdom (Rev. 19:1-20:6).
Our Lord’s admonition to His people is, “Don’t be terrified!” These things must come to pass; there is nothing anyone can do to prevent them. This does not mean that God’s people are submitting to blind fate; rather, it means they are yielding to the plan of a loving Father who works all things “after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11).
Finally, there will be religious persecution, both official (Luke 21:12-15) and personal (Luke 21:16-19). Of course, there has been religious persecution ever since Cain killed Abel (Matt. 23:34-36). Jesus promised that His people would suffer (John 15:18-16:4), and that promise holds true today (2 Tim. 3:12). But the persecution in the end times will be much more severe and many will give their lives for Christ.
Look at the Middle East: Christians and Jews are being persecuted, murdered and forced to flee their homeland, due to Muslims. A Christian minister, who converted from Islam to Christianity, is being held in an Iranian jail simply because he is a Christian.
Christianity is under attack in this country; God is being removed from our schools, our government, and our way of life by a few unbelievers. I pray that some day we as Christians will have the courage to restore the Judeo Christian values and beliefs that founded this great country.
Jesus gives encouragement to all who suffer persecution. We must remember that when we are persecuted, we suffer for His name’s sake (Luke 21:12), and this is a high honor (Acts 5:41). It is not important what people say about our names, but it is important that the name of Christ be glorified.
We also need to realize that suffering is an opportunity for witness (Luke 21:13-15). I am sure most of us will not have to endure suffering for Christ, but there are many down through the centuries that have. The Apostles made good use of the witness stand when they were arrested and taken before the council (Acts 4-5), and Christ’s servants and martyrs have followed their example.
Because of official persecution, God’s witnesses will stand before important people; and when that happens, they must not panic, for God will give them the words to speak. This promise is not an excuse for lazy preachers or Sunday school teachers who do not want to study! Rather, it is an assurance to faithful witnesses that God will always give them the words they need when they need them.
But they must not despair, for God is in control. Not a hair on their head can perish apart from His sovereign will (Matt. 10:28-31). Knowing this they can have endurance and be able to face the challenges with faith and courage.
While many Christians today enjoy freedom from official persecution, or even family opposition, there are others who suffer greatly for their faith, and what our Lord said here is an encouragement to them. We here in America have it easy. No one is being arrested simply because we are a Christian; at least not yet. Yes, our Christian faith is being persecuted by nonbelievers – God is being removed from our society, but it’s not personally affecting us; at least not yet.
Remember, the things Jesus described here are not signs of His soon return, because they have been going on for centuries. However, as the coming of the Lord draws near, these things will multiply and intensify. No matter what our views may be of the coming of the Lord, we all need to heed His three admonitions: “Don’t be deceived! Don’t be afraid! Don’t worry!”
We also have the words of the Prophet Isaiah: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.”
God saves the best for last: His description of “the new heavens and a new earth.” People will not get old or die (Isa. 65:20), nor will there be any danger or losing anything to invaders (vv. 21-23).
Jerusalem will be a source of joy, not only to the Lord but to the whole earth. It will be a city of holiness, harmony, and happiness. During the millennial kingdom, people will work, and God will bless their labors. People will pray, and God will answer (v. 24). Nature will be at peace (v. 25) because the curse will be lifted.
As holy saints through faith in the blood of Christ, we need not fear this end of the world. God’s Word encourages us to look forward to what will be. God declares that after He destroys the world as we know it – He will create a NEW heaven and earth. Imagine living in a world where there will be no more crying, no more pain, no more living with unbelievers; no more living with sinful desires, no more bad backs, and no more death.
We may worry about what will happen here at Trinity Church. Will we continue as a Christian community? What will happen to the building if we close? Where will we worship? Who will bury me? What will happen to the friendships we have made over the years? Does any of this matter?
The kingdom of God and the spreading of His Word is all important. It is worth investing in and losing everything over. In the end, whether we die with nothing – as Lazarus did, or many things – as Abraham did – makes no difference. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Gal. 5:6). So why not make the most with what we’ve got – for HIS kingdom? Why not invest your efforts in doing ETERNAL things?
St. Paul stated: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13-14).
Friends, the end is always near – maybe just around the corner or many years to come. But God promises us that because Jesus died and rose from the dead, we will rise again – in a new and eternal world. So stick to the basics. That means first and foremost continuing in the Word and Sacrament – keeping connected to Christ – to keep you focused on the prize. Use your body. Use your gifts. That’s what life in Christ is all about. Have no fear. The end is near.
Let us pray:
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.