By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
November 13, 2022
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Luke 21:5–19 (ESV)
5 And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 7 And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” 8 And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. 9 And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.
Have you ever really thought about what it means to be a follower of Jesus? I have wrestled with this question over the past couple of weeks. Well, if I am honest, years. I ask this question and I even encourage you to consider this question because it is important. What does it mean to follow Christ?
This is not flippant or something I ask in jest, but I really want us to deeply consider what it means to follow Christ. It has been a question of mine because we live in a culture where this definition can easily become skewed. Does following Christ mean that I need to belong to a particular political party? Does following Christ mean that I cannot study the sciences or even worse the arts? Does following Christ mean that we must treat certain people within our community differently than others? I want us to really consider these questions because they are important. And I hope that it takes you a bit to answer them.
I ask these questions because these questions have always been part of faith. What did it mean to be part of Israel in the days of Moses? During the days of Isaiah? Or during exile? What did it mean to be part of Israel while living in Egypt after the temple was rebuilt? What did it mean to believe in the God of Israel if you were recognized as a Gentile or a Samaritan?
A great deal has changed over the course of history. Today each of us can read the scripture, most of us can read it in our native language, and at times we can have multiple translations within our native language. We each own at least one bible, and if you do not then today is your lucky day because we have Bibles available in the foyer and you can have one. Most of us, if we have a smart phone, have the scripture within reach every moment of every day. This is something that has changed in history. Since 1611 those that speak English have had access to scripture, prior to that the only time most people heard scripture, not read, but heard scripture was if they attended a meeting for worship in a church. Because of this lack of access to scripture, the church formed a lectionary where over the course of three years nearly 14% of the Old Testament not including the Psalms is read, 55% of the non-gospel portions of the New Testament, and nearly 90% of the Gospels are read.
That is the statistics if we were to read all the lectionary readings each week. We do not do this here at Willow Creek Friends, and this is only for those churches that use the lectionary. Most Evangelical churches do not use the lectionary because we consider ourselves free churches, meaning we have the freedom to use whatever scriptures we want at any given time. I like that freedom, but unfortunately this freedom comes with a cost.
One of my great-grandfathers was a pastor, and so was one of my grandfathers, the second set of commentaries that I owned was given to me by my grandmother and they were commentaries that my great-grandfather used, she also gave me the last bible he used while preaching and these are some of my most cherished possessions. But there is a problem. Most of the volumes are in near mint condition, while a few are so tattered I can barely use them. I am not speaking ill of my great-grandfather, every pastor has books and passages they have greater comfort with. I am no different, but in many free churches this leaves a gap in what is spoken about publicly and to fill this gap each member must do their own work.
But where the gaps occur is the greatest problem. My great-grandfather is not the greatest source of information but I can say that the people within the meetings he served heard messages primarily from Roman’s, and then Matthew. These are the volumes of his commentaries that are in near tatters and I must admit because I inherited his commentaries and used them for the first ten years of my ministry, I avoided those books not because they are unimportant but because I did not want to further damage my resources.
If this is similar in other churches and we could probably say it is, there is a real gap in teaching. We can learn a great deal from a couple of books within scripture but by only focusing on a portion we risk getting a skewed view of what faith is. And for most of my life this skewed view has gotten broader. This is the primary reason I tend to avoid eschatology. And next year I am planning on alleviating some of this disparity in teaching and will speak more on the Old Testament, since I have mainly spoken out of the gospels during the time I have been here at Willow Creek.
What does it mean to be a Christian, what does it mean to be a disciple of Christ or a follower of Jesus? This question is similar to the question those of Israel had in the first century. We saw a portion of this last week when the Sadducees came to ask Jesus a question. There is no question that history considers them to be on an equal standing or of equal footing to the Pharisees, even though they had different understandings of what faith was. To the point that history says they controlled the temple.
This is where we want to begin. The temple of Yahweh was something to behold. I have not had the pleasure of visiting the Mount that once held this wonder of the ancient world, but some of you have. And what we see today is nothing, it is just part of the retaining wall. If we are to believe the ancient historians, the façade or the main entrance to the courts were ten stories tall and equally wide. This would cover a third of an average city block and they did not say if this was the outer courts or the inner courts. But what they did say is that this massive façade ten stories tall and just as wide was covered in gold. The federal courthouse in Kansas City is of similar size. Just imagine that covered in gold.
We assume that the Sadducees held influence over this building. This building that each religious observer would visit at least three times a year. It was at this temple where the tithes of Israel were brought, and where the priests would offer the sacrifices of Thanksgiving and for the sins of the nation. This is an influential place. With stones that are estimated to weigh a million pounds. And those at this temple looked to Jesus and they said, “Just look at this place.” They were awestruck by the grandeur and we could not blame them.
There are many great buildings in the world. And some buildings built in ancient days still astonish us. The pyramids of Egypt and Mexico fascinate me. The great cathedral Hagia Sophia in Istanbul takes my breath away. I literally cried when Notre Dame burned. As much as I currently dislike Russia today, I still marvel every time I see the onion domes of St Basil’s. And the Norwegian Stave churches are currently my favorite architectural style.
When we see these great buildings it is difficult for us to imagine the societies that initiated these wonders falling from prominence, but the once great gate of Persia have been transported to the British Museum along with countless other artifacts. Egypt remained a mystery to modern people until the Rosetta Stone was discovered. Hagia Sophia the great cathedral with the largest freestanding dome was converted to a mosque and is now only a museum. Those are ancient buildings, the company that built the Willis Tower, which was once the largest building in the world is nearly extinct.
Jesus looked at those men marveling about the great building before them and he told them not one of these stones will be left standing on another. This is a shocking statement, and the people that listened were amazed.
Why were they amazed? Imagine a world without the White House. Imagine a world where the Red Square was a vague memory. Imagine the British Isles without Buckingham palace. These are more than structures they are cultural identity. They define a nation, or people. This is what the Temple in Jerusalem was. It was more than a place of worship. It was a monument to the hope of Israel.
Jesus is telling them that they have a misplaced faith. They are worshiping the building, not the God who is said to reside within. Their worship and have faith not in the hope given by God but in the things they have provided for themselves. Look at the building, marvel at the offerings. All the gold.
Jesus has their attention. And he has their attention for a reason the second temple period of Jewish faith loved a good apocalypse. Jesus starts saying the temple will be destroyed and they think they might just have something that could sell.
They press Jesus for more information. Tell us the signs. Give us something to look for. Why do they want to know this? For the same reason we do. They want to use it for their own advantage.
I mentioned that I avoid speaking about eschatology, there is a reason for this. That is nearly all I heard growing up. As a young adult nearly, every Christian movie produced was based on eschatology. The most popular book series in my formative years was Left Behind. Probably once every five years I heard an in-depth sermon series on an aspect of Revelation. Apocalypse sells. It was not until the Passion of Christ that the movie industry realized that maybe they could make something other than apocalyptic films.
Jesus again looks at these profit seeking sign teachers and he tells them probably the most important things we need to know about the end of the world.
Luke 21:8–9 (ESV): “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”
There are three very important points in those two verses. The first: “Do not go after them.” The second: “Do not be terrified.” And the third and probably the most important of the three: “the end will not be at once.”
Do not be terrified. I just mentioned that apocalypse sells. It sells because it preys upon our fears. We as humans will do almost anything, buy almost anything, or vote for almost anyone if it will take away or alleviate our fears. Jesus tells us not to be terrified of these apocalyptic tales. And there were many during Jesus’s Era of history.
Do not listen to them.
Have I ever told you how much is dislike the election cycle? Some get annoyed with me when I say things like this because they think I do not care about our country. Those that know me can tell you that is far from the truth. What I dislike about the election cycle is the fear mongering, and the telling of partial truths. I will be honest. I grew up in a family that is deeply Republican and that is by in large my political views. I say this only because I have lived through two presidential terms that I was told would end the nation. They may not have done what I would have liked but I would not want to live anywhere else.
Fear mongers are out for something. They know they do not have solutions to the problems we face, but they want you to believe that if you do not listen to them the worst will happen. There are times when we should be cautious, I wear a seat belt for a reason. I get my vaccinations not because someone tells me to but because I understand enough about our biological systems to know that vaccines can work. You do not have to agree with me, if fact I would love for you to change my mind. Those that use fear are selling something we do not need.
Finally the last point Jesus made in those two verses. “the end will not be at once.” This statement is one that often gets twisted. Some will say that Jesus was making a statement about the destruction of Jerusalem will not be the end. And yes, he did say that. But what we often miss is that he means. You might think that the end is near but it will not come soon.
I know several took a quick breath right there. Jesus is not telling us the end will not come. He is saying our focus should not be on the end but what is going on right now. He continues to speak about how terrible life could get for those that follow him. He says even your own family will turn you over to the authorities. This is something extremely taboo in a culture that is largely based on subsistence agriculture. You are not going to purposefully cause a labor shortage especially when harvest is coming.
The end is not what we should be focused on. We should not fear it, we should not listen to those the perpetuate theories surround it. And we should realize that it is not coming at once.
Why do I say these things? Because we as churches as Evangelical Churches, have gotten distracted. We have focused on avoiding the end to such a degree that we have forgotten that when we struggle together with those around us, we have an amazing opportunity. Jesus says that when you are struggling, when you are brought before your accusers, and face trials, “This will be your opportunity to bear witness.” The Greek here is martyr, which we often regard as being someone that has died for their faith. But it is a witness, or evidence. Jesus is literally saying you, when you face struggles, are the evidence for him. He then goes on to say, “Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer.” This is something very important. Throughout the Old Testament the righteous are encouraged to bind the law on their foreheads and to on hands. There are groups within the Jewish faith that take this quite literally, and they have phylacteries that they tie to their heads and they have strips of leather that they wrap around their arms as they pray. The prophets of old then said that God will write these things upon their hearts and later John wrote in the Revelation of Jesus about a mark we know as the mark of the beast. This mark is the anti-phylactery.
When God told the Israelites to bind the law on their foreheads, he was saying that the law should be on their mind. When its bound to their arms, he says that the law should be lived out in their actions. When the beast marks his people the same could be said. Their thoughts and actions are contrary to God. When Jesus says that we should settle it therefore in our minds, it is the Greek form of this concept. The word of God should already be present in our minds and in our actions. We do not need to prepare a speech to give at a moment’s notice because the Spirit has already written or prepared those words for us as we live each day for Him. There will be a day when everything within the kingdoms of men that we have confidence in will crumble and fall. There will be a day when we will have to bear witness to our faith in a manner that may be uncomfortable and at times may even be dangerous. How will we respond? Will it be in fear or faith? Those that live by faith even through the greatest trials, Jesus says will gain your lives. This does not necessarily mean that our troubles will end, but we will find we will gain meaning and purpose. We will find the very thing we seek and hope for. We will find the god we put our hope in. For those that are reading my sermon notes you will notice I put the lower case god in that sentence, because we often worship many different things. What we think about, and how we live, often determines where our faith resides. Our nation, our wealth, the buildings that inspire us, or the God that come to live among us, to teach us, to die in for us and to raise again to give us the hope of restored life. Will we live by fear or will we be the evidence of faith in God.
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