Here is the sermon I gave at Saint Peter’s Evangelical church last Sunday, November 13:
Many movies thrive off of developing our imagination as to what it would look like to see the earth or civilization as we know it decimated. The public has consumed over the years a series of movies about alien invasions or some type of disaster related to a meteor hitting the earth. In this way these movies provide their own interpretation of the last day. We know these are all fictional stories as we watch them. But they still stir up feelings of fear and perhaps awareness of our mortality.
Imagine how strange it would be to actually witness the destruction of one national landmark after another, our city skylines, our highways, our college campuses and sports stadiums. It is unthinkable to us that things we take for granted as the markers of our national landscape could quite easily be destroyed and forgotten about.
In the same way it was unthinkable for the disciples to hear Jesus’ prophecy about the temple in Jerusalem. “Not one stone will be left on another.” Such complete destruction was beyond what the disciples could ever imagine. How could the temple as majestic and impressive as any building they ever saw, be destroyed? How could a structure so incomparably important to Israel ever be permitted by God to fall?
It just doesn’t seem fair! Once we get accustomed to that which appears stable and enduring in our society- and in our lives, we have a hard time picturing that such things should go away. By virtue of our attachment to our nation, our culture, our community, our families- we expect that these things should always be there.
As odd as it sounds, Elvis comes to my mind. Although before my time, I understand a lot of people appreciated his music as a constant in their lives. Whether it was covers of old love songs, gospel songs, or energetic rock and roll, people called him the “King.”
When he died how did some fans react? He must not really be dead! How could someone so full of life and energy and music be gone? It just didn’t seem like it could be real to some fans. But before we get too hard on those who might have struggled to accept that Elvis had died, consider how the disciples react in a similar manner of disbelief and questioning when Jesus tells them about the coming destruction of the temple.
In response to what Jesus says they ask about what will be the signs that this is about to take place. It seems like asking for the details is a way to manage fear. Not one stone upon another, really?! What possibly could ever cause this? Will there be warning signs?
Questions of what, and where are the wrong questions for us as believers. In asking or seeking to know these details is like seeking insider information so as to be more prepared and less afraid of the danger. Questions of what, why or how want to identify blame or identify possibilities by which we might avoid such inevitable bad news.
Such questions get our focus off the true message of Christ’s return. Curiosity about the details can serve as a distraction from facing the true reality of what the end times means for us. It means that Jesus will return and will make judgement.
To the unbelieving world Judgement is a scary prospect. Apart from our faith in Christ we would also view judgement as a terrible day. But in Christ the judgment on the last day is good news for us, not a cause for fear. It is good news because Jesus judges the world in righteousness. We will not be judged over how much good we have done compared to our neighbors. We will not be judged according to how our sins balance with times we have followed God’s way.
Instead the only criteria in which we will be judged will be whether we have known Jesus in faith. We will be judged only according to the righteousness of Christ. Robed in the pure white righteousness of Christ, our sin will not be visible to God on judgement day, only the light of Christ in us. In this way His judgement will be a vindication for our faith, a recognition that we are the Lord’s.
Even knowing the good news that Jesus will judge us in righteousness, at first reaction the idea of the end of the world brings fear. It is natural for us to have those when, what, and how questions. But Jesus replaces those when and what questions with: ‘watch out’ and ‘fear not.’
First of all Jesus warns, watch out! Watch out for those who would deceive us as to seeing the coming judgment as not real. Deceivers want to hide the fact that the end is coming. 2 Peter Chapter 3 describes how in the last days scoffers will try and make the case that there will be no final judgement and say “where is the promise of his coming?”
Deceivers also want to hide the fact that Jesus is the only way of escape from judgment. They want to propose alternate forms of salvation that conveniently match what the world wants to believe about itself. That it is too close minded and bigoted to say that Jesus is the only way of salvation, and that those who follow other religions are wrong. Deceivers want the world to all agree on the idea that any way you choose can lead to salvation.
In times of deception, Jesus brings us the truth. He brings the truth in himself, in what he has done to accomplish salvation for every person. That his death on the cross and resurrection is what brings salvation, and nothing else of our own choosing.
Jesus brings the truth in His Word, which the Holy Spirit uses in our mouth to spread the truth of God in a world filled with the lies of Satan. Sometimes the so called wise of this world want to make a case that they know God’s Word better than we do, to the point that we feel powerless to communicate the word of truth. But notice how specific Jesus is about what the Holy Spirit will provide for our speech in this time: “For I will give you a mouth of wisdom, that none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”
Jesus also replaces the what where, when and how with “fear not”
As Jesus speaks to the disciples he tells them about a series of events and even provides the promise that the Holy Spirit will give them the words to say in moments of persecution. And then Jesus gives a specific instruction for them to follow. “Raise your head, for your redemption is near.”
Think about what it means to raise your head. This is a physical gesture of hope. Without hope in times of crisis a person might curl up and keep down, covering their head for shelter.
When a movie depicts end of the world type destruction events, the implicit message is, things are bad and are only going to get worse. Take cover while you can and hope you are one of the few who can survive. Part of what makes such a movie interesting is following how the main characters navigate their way through an unpredictable landscape of physical danger and societal panic.
As the viewer of the movie we are invited to consider and imagine how scary it must be to be unavoidably confronted with the end of the world as we know it. This fear in the movie plot depends on an end times scenario where God is not bringing about the end and God is not bringing deliverance. Basically it is a every man for himself scenario.
In contrast, to raise your head is to watch in expectation for deliverance. To raise your head is to expect that Jesus will return.
As the church we can easily get caught up into the narrative of our secular culture to live as if the world as we know it will always continue, to live as if we are not expecting a return of Jesus, or at the very least at no time soon.
To raise our heads is to watch for Jesus to return. Have you ever noticed how cows almost always have their heads down while they graze the grass? Perhaps due to generation after generation of domestication, cows don’t spend much of any time looking up watching for danger. They have a complacency in the way they live where they pay no attention to anything else around them or on the horizon, they keep their heads oriented toward the grass that is in front of them busy with grazing.
Likewise when we lose sight of the return of Jesus, we can get caught up in a complacency of the cares of daily life, where we lose sight of the redemption in Christ that awaits us. We become so focused on our present context that we live as if it is all that we have.
To raise our heads and fear not is to have faith that even as the world becomes more hostile to the gospel we are still given the words and the courage to stand as witnesses to His Word. As His baptized children we stand with words of wisdom to the world in the face of false teachings.
What will mark our lives as we wait without worry? Standing firm in patient endurance and strong witness. God has given us unchanging truth in changing times. We are called on to declare the truth of his coming judgment as well as the truth of his mercy.
We keep one ear open for sign’s of our king’s return while we do the king’s business today. We do this because we care about those around us so that they may know our Lord’s care throughout eternity. Watch out, but fear not, this is how we wait without worry.