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"Witness not Worry in Frightening Times"

Christ the King Sunday - Nov.24/13 Lk.21:5-19


Have you ever had a tour guide who was less than ideal? Imagine going to the CN Tower, but your "visitor host" insists you stay at ground level, because of the risk of falling if you went up. Or suppose you're at Niagara Falls, but your tour guide there insists you keep back three metres from the railing at all times for safety's sake - yet this prevents you from getting a good view of the falls. Such a guide wouldn't be letting you enjoy the attraction to the full effect; most tour guides instead might tend to exaggerate the "wow" factor of the attraction.

Luke records in 21:5f, "Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God.But Jesus said, '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.'" What was it that prevented Christ from getting excited about the mammoth monolith that was Jerusalem's Number One tourist attraction? What reservations did He have that dampened his enthusiasm and might have qualified Him to be nominated "World's Worst Tour Guide"? After all, Herod's Temple was an awesome architectural accomplishment. The central part towered 150 feet high. Columns of solid marble rose 40 feet high out in the public spaces. King Herod himself had donated a golden grapevine so huge that the clusters of grapes (solid gold, mind you!) were about the height of a full-grown person. Some blocks in the walls were solid stone 36 feet by 12 feet by 12 feet; they weighed up to 70 tons! One whole eastern wall was covered with gold plate so that in the mornings when the sun rose, it glowed beautifully for miles. What could possibly prevent Jesus from getting excited about such an awesome structure?

Promoters, advertisers, and tour guides tend to blow things up to make them seem even more impressive than they actually are. But Jesus' realism and prophetic long-range view prompted Him to caution the disciples about getting too hyped on any humanly-built construct. He was right, you know; the Temple was completed in AD 64, but within just 6 years, AD 70, Jerusalem would be sacked and the Temple levelled by the army of the Roman general Titus in response to a Jewish rebellion. Titus built huge wooden scaffolds around the walls and set them on fire, melting the gold and causing the huge strones to crumble.

Jesus did pour cold water on the disciples' enchantment with temporal human masterpieces. But His words in this passage offer encouragement to believers that extends to us today when it may seem our own world is falling apart.


If you are currently sailing along on a cloud worry-free and all's right in your world, without any significant problems or challenges, maybe you don't need this sermon today. You can just tuck it away for future reference! But for the other 90% (perhaps) of us for whom our immediate world isn't QUITE that ideal right now, Jesus has Good News. But to get there we first need to look at the Bad News - things that indicate the world is slowly decaying, subject to "frustration" and "decay" as Paul puts it in Romans 8(20f). Perhaps that "bad news" is right where you find yourself as you come here today!

In Luke 21:7 the disciples ask Jesus when the throwing-down of the temple stones would happen, and what would be the sign it's about to take place. In vv8-18 (today's reading) He doesn't get into actual signs of the end times; rather, He prepares them for our present age, ways the world has been coming APART at the seams for centuries. We can summarize these as: demolition; deception; revolution; destruction; and opposition.

First, DEMOLITION: v6 predicted accurately that not long in the future, "not one stone" of Herod's temple would be left on another; "every one of them will be thrown down." Our human edifices, our monuments to greatness, are always getting surpassed, outdated. Chicago's Sears Tower built in 1973 (now the "Willis Tower") at 442 metres in height is now ranked #7 in the world; the current winner, Burj Khalifa in Dubai of the United Arab Emirates, is nearly twice as tall at 828 metres (it also beats the CN Tower - 553 m).

What are trying to build with your life's effort? Is it a Tower of Babel, an idol competing with God's glory? Sooner or later death comes to us all, and the most impressive companies have to be handed over to others who may continue them or dismember them. Build in terms of discipleship - conversion not concrete - and you won't have to see your progress demolished.

Second, DECEPTION: In v8 Jesus warns, "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." The serpent in the garden succeeded in deceiving Eve about the fruit God had prohibited, spinning her a line about how eating it would make her wise as God, knowing good and evil (Gen 3:5). We come from a long line of gullibles! There's always a false messiah waiting in the wings, a Joseph Smith or Sun Myung Moon or Jim Jones ready to proclaim themselves Messiah and lead hundreds astray. But do you have media icons or business icons you secretly worship? Whom do you esteem most in the public eye? Are their values and lifestyle Biblical and God-honouring? Beware of being deceived, gullibly "buying into" what the world portrays as a successful approach to life.

It's so easy to be deceived. One of my daughters this week succumbed to malware that promptly spammed everyone in her Gmail address book. The 'con' email can look so genuine - all you've got to do is click on the link! "Watch out that you are not deceived."

If you're dating, or considering someone as a potential boyfriend or girlfriend, check them out from a spiritual angle not just whether they look "hot" and act "cool". The apostle Paul warned, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers." (2Cor 6:14) Make sure you're together on a Christian basis for worship, values, and oneness, else your union down the road may easily start to crumble when conflict arises. Don't be deceived. If they're not a Christian, don't consider them even a candidate for dating - if you truly belong to Jesus. If they haven't experienced the grace of Christ personally, they won't have much reservoir of grace for you.

Third, REVOLUTION: 21:9f "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." Lots of revolution going on in the world right now, both "Arab Spring" and elsewhere. Nineteenth-century philosophers proclaimed "God is dead" then predicted (accurately) the 20th century would be the bloodiest on record. When God goes, it's your word against mine, my rights vs your rights, my "tribe's" ways and muscles against your "tribe's". Belligerence and bullying are evident in municipal politics and other levels, while we suppose "Challenge / Change Days" can persuade school students not to bully others. In marriages, a spouse may use pocketbook or sexual privilege to hold their partner hostage until they get their own way.

Two neighbours were talking over the back fence. "I went to a wedding this weekend," said one, "but I don't think the marriage will last." "Why not?" asked the other. "Well, when the groom said 'I do,' the bride said, 'Don't use that tone of voice with me.'" (!)

Fourth in Jesus' list of worldly realisms is DESTRUCTION. 21:11 "There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven." Since Adam's and Eve's choices got them evicted from the Garden of Eden, our world has been "in bondage to decay", "groaning" (as Paul puts it) "as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time". Earthquakes and famines have been common through the centuries. Recently the Philippines suffered a devastating typhoon, and parts of Illinois were flattened by tornadoes. Whether carbon dioxide can be shown scientifically to be THE significant factor in global warming or not, our dependence on fossil fuels isn't helping. As for pestilence, around 1350 AD the bubonic plague or 'black death' wiped out about 35 million people, or a third to a half of Europe's population! Unfortunately this year polio has resurfaced in Syria due to lack of immunization with all the conflict.

The fifth and final way the world's falling apart that Jesus touches on is OPPOSITION. Vv 12 and 16f "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." At the beginning of this month we marked "International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church" so I won't spend much time on this today. It's encouraging to note that last week the U.S.State Department designated Boko Haram a "Foreign Terrorist Organization"; according to the State Department, Boko Haram "is responsible for thousands of deaths in northeast and central Nigeria over the last several years including targeted killings of civilians." A news story this week tells of a 19-year-old Nigerian Christian girl held captive as a slave, threatened at knifepoint to "convert or die". Hajja the girl recalled, "If I cried, they beat me.If I spoke, they beat me.They told me I must become a Muslim but I refused again and again."

Demolition, deception, revolution, destruction, opposition - Christ's summary of the world's woes seems pretty realistic. Now, that'd be bleak if it stopped there. But when the world's falling a-part, He suggests we AND He have a part to play.


What's our part? Get grounded deep - through RESOLUTION and FOUNDATION. V14, in the context of persecution, getting hauled before authorities on account of Jesus' name, being witnesses to them, He admonishes - "But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves." Both NIV and NRSV translate this "make up your mind" but the original Greek more literally is "set your HEARTS" - resolve it, settle it in your heart, your inner person, prayerfully work it out before the Lord that you're going to depend on Him rather than succumb to worry and your own limited resources. Resolve it, find the resolution of His peace through the Holy Spirit that you won't fret about what you're going to say in defence but speak as He leads.

So, when your personal world's crashing in - you've been deceived, 'been had', are facing opposition, a relationship's threatened - get alone with God and "set your heart" in the peace and lordship of Christ. The Holy Spirit can show you how to respond with grace and holiness, overcoming evil with good.

Also - FOUNDATION: v19 "By standing firm you will gain life." By standing firm, by endurance, perseverance, you will (literally) obtain / acquire / get your "souls" (psyches). Your eternal destiny is not threatened, even when your life in this world IS. Faith in the foundation-work of what Jesus has won for you at the cross will save you in the eternal 'long run'. Paul in prison had worked this out and was quite ready to face execution OR continued ministry, should that be God's will; He wrote to the Philippians, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Php 1:21) He grounded his life and future solidly in Jesus his Saviour. So he "resolved" the matter in his soul.


When the world's falling a-part, WE have a part to play: get grounded deep. But Jesus also here indicates HE will play a part, too: provision, invincible position, and preservation.

PROVISION: Jesus promises in 21:15, "For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict." I will give you words and wisdom - "words" translates literally "mouth": speech, perception and grasp of mysteries, realities that transcend what's visible in this world, wisdom to see how it all ties together and has a bearing on our current life, and language to be able to explain it understandably to those who are threatening us. Governors and leaders used to bullying their way around to get what they want. Jesus' way upends that. Through the Holy Spirit, the Lord provides words and wisdom.

INVINCIBLE POSITION - these words and wisdom "none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict." In Acts 4 when Peter and John explain how it's in Jesus' name the man lame from birth was healed, Luke records, "But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say." (Ac 4:14) They were speechless. They couldn't come up with any rebuttal! Or when Apollos went to Achaia, "he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ." (Ac 18:28) Great insight and "proof" his adversaries couldn't contradict.

If someone challenges your belief, often the best defence is to simply share the difference Jesus has made in your own life. You're the 'expert' on your own experience! It's good to have a few simple verses that get to the heart of the gospel memorized so you can share them too. But often today people aren't interested in intellectual arguments: they want to hear your own spiritual journey, your very own story - how Christ has helped you, how He's given ballast to your boat in the storms of life. An invincible position.

And, finally, Jesus offers PRESERVATION. The passage ends (vv17ff), "All men will hate you because of me.But [SIGNIFICANT 'BUT' HERE!] - BUT not a hair of your head will perish.By standing firm you will gain life." "Not a hair of your head will perish" - yet he's just said in v16 some will be put to death, as indeed James then Peter and all the apostles were eventually martyred for their faith. So what's "not a hair of your head will perish" mean? Back in Luke 12 He'd told them not to fear those who could just kill the body; instead to fear Him who, "after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell." (Lk 12:5) Then Jesus said even sparrows are not forgotten by God, and added, "Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."

So "not a hair of your head will perish" is code for saying God's sovereign control is protecting you: if you're killed, it's not because God's asleep at the switch; He may permit it, but His power will still preserve from Hell those who trust in His Son, those He treasures as His children begotten-again through faith. These will (v19) "gain life" - eternal life! God protects those who are in Christ from eternal harm. Jesus declared in John 10(28f), "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand." Jesus offers PRESERVATION, un-snatchability, bringing us safely at last to be with Him.

In the last of the 7 letters to the churches in Asia Minor recorded in the Revelation to St.John, Jesus says those who hear His voice and open the door will experience Jesus coming in and eating with them. Then He adds, "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne." (Rev 3:21)

He preserves for believers the right to sit with Him. We went to a funeral Friday for a sweet lady aged 85 who Yvonne had come to know as a regular at the Wingham Adult Day Centre. Shirley B was a believer like Yvonne and their personalities seemed to attract them to each other, and they became friends. They'd usually sit beside each other at the table for the discussion times and activities. They were even a bit sad when someone else came and took the chair so they couldn't sit together.

Friday at the funeral the congregation was singing, "When we all get to heaven / What a day of rejoicing that will be!" As we sat down I leaned over to Yvonne and said, "Now Shirley's got someone even better to sit with." Let's pray.