Monday, December 11, 2017

Sermon on Luke 21:25-36, for the 2nd Sunday in Advent, "Stand Before the Son"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. In today’s Gospel we hear the last words of Jesus’ public teaching, before He goes to celebrate His last Supper with the disciples, and to be betrayed, arrested, and crucified. The topic of Jesus’ last public teaching was the end of the world and His return as the judge of the living and the dead. Jesus says that He, the Son of Man, will return on “a cloud with power and great glory.” It’s an interesting contrast. Jesus uses the title Son of Man to convey His role of suffering and death on the cross. But here, right before all that happens, He shifts to using this title to describe His coming glory from God, for all that He has done for us. The Son of Man turns from His suffering to His glory.
Jesus teaches about His Second Coming and the end of the world so that we would be warned and ready. Jesus knows that people will respond differently—but He wants us to be ready. Today He tells us what posture we should take towards warning signs of the end; He tells us how to avoid the pitfalls of unreadiness; and where to put our trust in the midst of it all. First of all, people respond differently to the promised return of Jesus. Some simply scoff and do not believe it. Other see things slowly coming unraveled, just like Jesus describes—and it fills them with an intense anguish and perplexity. People will feel lost and confused—others fainting from fear. It’s not unique to our times, but you can certainly find plenty of people who are hysterical about the end of the world. There are both religious and secular versions of this hysteria—but are heavily driven by fear. But Jesus calls His followers to a much different posture—not cowering in fear, not oblivious or careless to His coming, but standing tall, heads up, expectant, hopeful.
The reading ends with a similar call: “But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Pray for strength so you can stand before the Son of Man (on the Day of Judgment). To straighten up and stand, is a posture of courage and joy—not of weakness, fear, defeat, or cowardice. But it’s also not the kind of encouragement given if things are just going to coast along easily, peacefully, and smoothly until the end. Jesus reveals that the end times are a time of real testing and hardship. Are you ready? Are you strong and willing to stand, or do you belong to those who are filled with fear and dread? A movie I saw recently, called “Bridge of Spies” had a scene where a captured spy is recounting a difficult scene he saw in childhood. A man was being beaten by Soviet soldiers, but no matter how they kept beating him, he kept standing up again, to their amazement. They finally left him alone because they admired his resilience, and called him stoikiy muzhik—“standing man”.
Jesus’ description of the end times shows that people will faint and fall to the ground with fear. Other’s will hang their heads, but we are to be standing men and standing women. We do not belong to defeat, but to Christ’s victory! There may be plenty of circumstances that bring us to our knees—but Christ teaches that being on our knees can be a position of strength. How so? In that last verse again, Jesus says to pray for strength to escape all these things and to stand before the Son of Man. If we are on our knees, pray for strength to stand. It may seem safer to keep your head down or to fall to the ground. But Jesus calls us to stand  But how and why can disciples of Jesus be composed with such courage and joy?
Jesus says: “because your redemption is drawing near” and a few verses later: “you know that the kingdom of God is drawing near.” Redemption means to buy back—it is a repurchase of something. It can be the repurchase of freedom for a slave. It can be the repurchase of bottles for recycling. In Scripture, it is Jesus’ repurchase of sinners for freedom: “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34b-36). So is “redemption” a present or a future reality? Yes! It is! The Bible speaks of redemption both as a reality now—for example, Ephesians 1:7, “In Him we have (present tense!) redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.” But also at the same time Ephesians 4:30 can speak of the future of redemption: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Or Romans 8:23b-24a, “We wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.”. Our present redemption is that forgiveness and freedom are already ours in Christ Jesus. The future redemption of our bodies comes at the resurrection of all flesh, when Jesus returns. So our joy is set to this hope—Jesus is near!
In verse 32-33 we come to the central promise in this section of Jesus’ final teaching: Luke 21:32–33 “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.” Jesus describes three things—and He uses the words “pass away” three times. First, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. The signs must happen first, but eventually, this generation will pass away. Second—heaven and earth will pass away. All that seems solid and firm as the mountains, or vast and immovable as the oceans, or great and innumerable as the stars in the universe—all of it will pass away. This does have a terrifying description, as 2 Peter 3:10 describes it: “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” But amidst all this destruction, the third and final promise is this: “but my words will not pass away.” One thing holds solid and firm—one refuge remains when all else is disintegrating and returning to chaos—it is Jesus’ words. The Word of the Lord Shall Endure Forever. It was one of the mottoes of the Reformation. God’s Word remains unchanging and our great refuge, even in the midst of all the changes and chances of life.
Pressures on many sides would cause us to forsake that firm ground, to leave the refuge of God’s Word, or to trade it away for something newer or better. The first lie of the devil to mankind, is still alive and ill among us: did God really say?—because the devil wants us to abandon God’s Word. But we abandon it at our own peril. God’s Word is the everlasting foundation, greater even then the heavens and the earth. If we are to be “standing men” or people of courage and faith, then the foundation on which we stand must be the Word of Jesus Christ.
How do those pressures hit us? Jesus warns: “watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Pressures to abandon God’s Word, and the fear and foreboding of what the end times will bring, will lead many to be weighed down or burdened in their hearts. One of our hymns sings: save us from deep resignation to the evils we deplore. Don’t be resigned to evil, or assume powerlessness, when we have the power of the Holy Spirit! There will be a heaviness and weakness in the hearts of many that leads them into unreadiness. Dissipation, drunkenness, and cares (or anxieties) of this life. Dissipation is really a rare word, and not too helpful to our understanding—though it means to slowly disintegrate or come apart. The more literal translation from the Greek would be hangovers or headaches from drinking. When the world seems frightening, there is a danger for many, to drown their fears and sorrows in alcohol.
Jesus is saying that the cares and worries of life could overwhelm us; but don’t let that drive us into drinking and despair. We could slowly come “unglued” whether by drinking, substance abuse, or even just by fretfulness that changes nothing. Jesus tells us all this because obviously it will require strength of faith and strength of heart to endure, trusting in Him. We need to be sober and watchful, putting our hope in Jesus. Peter walked on the water in the storm, until he turned his eyes from Jesus, and he began sinking. But with eyes on Jesus, however the storm may rage and seas may crash, we see Christ our calm in the midst of the storm, and our redemption who is drawing near. His hand is extended to ours, pulling us up out of fear, weakness, and anxiety. He can manage all the trouble—He only calls us to trust in Him, and supplies that very faith by which we do trust!
Pray earnestly, urgently to God, for strength. Be watchful and ready, and when the sins of fear and doubt and cowardice weed their way into your mind, pull those weeds and cast those worries and sins back on Jesus, because He cares for you. Lift up your eyes to Him, for He is your redemption, and He is near. And we can earnestly pray for strength because Jesus has promised to supply it! We know He wants to strengthen our faith, and to make us to stand before Him in the day of judgment. Fear not that you are weak—He is strong. Fear not that the world is chaos—He is order and our Rock. Fear not that sin’s power is great—His power and love are infinitely greater. Stand before the Son of Man, who set you on your feet as a forgiven, holy, precious child of God, whom He has redeemed. Pray: “I am yours, save me!” (Psalm 119:94). We know that God wants to strengthen us, and we know that He wants to save us, because He wants us to know that the power is not ours, but is His alone. To the Son of Man be all power and great glory! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 21:25-36 are the last of Jesus’ recorded public teachings before His death on the cross. What was the central topic? What was He getting people ready for, and how?
  2. The title “Son of Man” is usually connected to Jesus’ role in suffering and dying for our sins (see Luke 9:22, 44; 18:31; 24:7). How does this reference in Luke 21:27 & 36 show that He has “turned the corner” from His suffering and death to receiving honor from God?
  3. What examples of unreadiness for Jesus’ return does He describe in this passage? Why should believers respond in such a different way when the signs of the end come? How can we be “standing men” or “standing women?” Where does our courage and strength and joy come from?
  4. Is “redemption” a present or future reality? Luke 21:24; Ephesians 1:7; 4:30; Romans 8:23-24. What is redemption? John 8:34-36.
  5. In Luke 21:32-33 Jesus describes 3 things. Which of  these will pass away, and which will not? Cf. Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:23-25. How can we hold fast to this foundation and refuge? Luke 6:46-49; 8:15.
  6. What original lie of the devil is recycled to us today, to pull us away from that foundation? Genesis 3:1.
  7. What dangers can lead us to unreadiness? Luke 21:34-35; 8:14. What is the dangerous spiritual effect of drunkenness or other substance abuse, or fretfulness? What requires our clear thinking and attention? How is our situation like the one in Matthew 14:27-31?
  8. What does Jesus tell us to pray for in Luke 21:36? Why can we be confident of His answer? Why does God want us to learn to depend on Him? 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. What can we pray, and be confident of His Yes? Psalm 119:94. 

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