"21:33 - More Sure than 2012"
Luke 21:25-36 Nov.29/09 1st in Advent
2012 TERROR: WERE THE MAYANS MISTAKEN?
"The end of the world is coming" - but now that's Hollywood proclaiming that, rather than some wild-eyed member of a religious cult toting a sandwich-board. This month the movie titled simply "2012" was released; it's been praised for some stunning computer graphics, but criticized for its fanciful plot and poor science - such as images of ocean waves from a mega-tsunami sweeping over the Himalayan mountain-tops. A trailer urges us to 'find out the truth' - but is this movie really going to tell us that? Searching the "2012 Phenomenon" on wikipedia reveals much of this is based on an ancient calendar developed by the Mayan Indians which runs out in December 2012. Add in some cosmic fear-factors such as galactic alignment and reversal of the earth's magnetic poles and, voila! You have a recipe for disaster.
The wikipedia article says there is disagreement amongst scholars whether even the Mayans were very concerned about their calendar running out. A present-day Mayan says most people in the tribe don't take it too seriously; they're not worried about the end of the world, instead they're more concerned about practical matters such as whether there's rain! Others object that even the idea of an apocalypse (end-of-the-world) is contrary to Mayan thought - it's taking a western concept and imposing it over Mayan categories, a clash of worldviews.
Although the film is highly fictional, it does tap into a certain widespread post-modern despair and sense of meaninglessness, not to mention mistrust of authority (as the film puts it, if the governments of the world knew the world was going to end, would they tell us?). Having abandoned absolute truth and God's standards for right and wrong found in His special revelation, the Bible, people are left with no other frame of reference or direction - so feel trapped and hopeless.
While most people would probably watch the movie and pass it off as imaginary, some take it more seriously. The studio launched a website, "Institute for Human Continuity", where visitors can apply for a lottery number to be a survivor of the calamity. David Morrison of NASA says he's received more than 1000 inquiries from people who thought this was genuine, including notes from teenagers who are contemplating suicide because they're afraid the world's going to end.
Contrast Hollywood's tales with the Biblical worldview, and Jesus' teachings in particular. The latter offer much more hope. The movie challenges viewers to find out the truth: Jesus told His listeners in John 8(31f), "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Jesus' truth liberates rather than traps in a deadly manner. Jesus does predict a global cataclysm that will make many afraid; but He assures us His word stands firm, and if we prepare for His return, we can know hope and be encouraged with something much better than disaster to anticipate.
SIGNS THAT BRING APPREHENSION - OR ANTICIPATION
In verses 25-31 of Luke 21, our Lord predicts there will be definite signs in history leading up to the end of the world as we know it. But it's a complex chapter to interpret, because the focus shifts back and forth from this age in general (complete with international conflicts, earthquakes, famines, and pestilences - which we've already seen), and the time of the apostles leading up to the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD, AND the final years when what He calls "the times of the Gentiles" will be fulfilled.
Leading up to this section, verses 12-19 particularly encourage Jesus' followers when they're persecuted, whether in the 1st century AD or the 21st century. Our faith in Christ will get us into some tough situations, challenged by hostile powers - from the local class bully or gang leader right on up to kings and governors. Belonging to Jesus may prompt others to hate us, betray us, or even put us to death. But Jesus sees these trials as opportunities to witness to others about Him; and He promises to protect even the hairs of our head, and that if we stand firm, we will gain "Life" with a capital L.
In 25-31 He transitions to particular signs that will be outwardly observable. (A) v25, "there will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars." These we can only conjecture about because we haven't seen them yet; but they could include astronomical oddities like comets, meteors, OR more dramatic alterations of the basic laws of physics that we mortals just assume to be constant. Those who know how delicately tuned and balance the universe is would understand even slight differences in gravity or attraction between particles would be all it takes to wrap up the entire cosmos.
(B) Vv25-26, nations (in context of a Jew speaking, we could translate this "Gentiles" or non-God-covenanters) will be "in anguish and perplexity", men will "faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world..." People's emotional responses to what they see happening will include distress, confusion, and fear. Contrast the difference being a Christian and knowing God makes! Trusting Him, we can say with Paul in Romans 8(31,35,37), "If God is for us, who can be against us?...Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us." There's a marvelous and security that knowing Jesus brings even when terrible disaster or disease strike.
(C) V25 refers to "the roaring and tossing of the sea". Not necessarily mega-tsunamis flooding the Himalayas; ordinary tsunamis are bad enough. With global warming we've heard concern about flooding of low-lying coastal areas, though actually water in ice shrinks as it melts. The word 'tossing' here has the same root as 'shaken' in v26: this could refer to tsunamis and tidal waves hurled up earthquakes.
(D) V26, NLT/NRSV, "the powers in/of the heavens will be shaken" (NIV falls short here - heavenly 'bodies' isn't a good translation). When we talk about 'the heavens' we're generally thinking of outer space; it could be that, but for the ancients, 'the heavens' included the sky, the clouds, where weather happens and storms are produced. So this could include climate change factors such as holes in the ozone layer; acid rain; radioactive fallout from Chernobyl; even mundane smog and pollution. Did you know the term 'smog' was used by a British writer as far back as 1905? In 1952 some 4000 Londoners died as a consequence of an especially filthy 'pea-souper', prompting passage of the Clean Air Act four years later. For many years in Britain there was opposition to banning the burning of smoky sea-coal because, in the Industrial Revolution, coal as a cheap energy source was seen as essential for 'progress'. Was Jesus looking ahead and warning us that, as technology advanced, we'd become such energy-hogs we'd seriously damage the very atmosphere we depend on for life? That we'd risk suffocating ourselves by our success?
Another meaning for the 'powers of the heavens" could be a spirit-world allusion: in Ephesians 2:2, Paul refers to Satan as "the ruler of the kingdom of the air". Jews back then held that the atmosphere was the abode of evil angels. If so, Jesus could be referring to a struggle or upset or incursion by heavenly host into the domain of evil spirits. In the context of Jesus' imminent return, that interpretation could certainly fit, too.
Which brings us to (E) The Ultimate Sign: v27, "At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." Cynics might scoff at this as sounding like a fairy tale, but it is a key event in the Biblical timeline, and well-attested in both Old and New Testaments. Daniel 7:13, "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven." Acts 1:11, at Jesus' ascension 40 days after Easter angels said to the gawking disciples, "Men of Galilee...why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." John records in Revelation 1:7, "Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen." And Paul states it matter-of-factly in 1Thessalonians 4:16, "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first." Yes it is a most peculiar occurrence, but it's one that Bible-believing Christians look forward to with utmost anticipation.
Note the parallel expressions in this passage that describe it: v28, "your redemption is drawing near;" v31, "when you see these things happening, you know that the Kingdom of God is near" - that is, the Kingdom's consummation in Jesus being united with His bride, the Church. As Paul continues in 1Thessalonians 4:17f, "After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore [he adds] encourage each other with these words." The main point is not whether the Saviour will arrive riding a cumulonimbus or trailing a cirrus: the point is, we get to be with Him - forever! That's what makes the prospect of heaven so wonderful - being able to revel in and enjoy God's presence, beauty, love, and glory nonstop.
For the Christian, apocalyptic or end-times teaching is not meant to be threatening or doom-ridden but immensely hopeful and encouraging. V28, Jesus says, "When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads..." The words 'stand up' could be rendered 'buck up!' as it refers to raising the body or soul; 'lift up your heads' could be taken as 'chin up!' Not downcast or gloomy but eagerly looking forward - because 'your redemption is drawing near'. Your being-bought-back as with a ransom.
The news this week reported the release of a Canadian and an Australian from captivity in Somalia; there was rumoured to be a ransom-price of $700,000. Somalia's not a place you'd want to be trapped right now, amidst lawless warlords and lethal conflict. Is there a bit of a parallel here to Jesus redeeming or ransoming us from this sin-ridden society? Are you feeling imprisoned in a body that's consigned to gradual breakdown under the influence of age, disease, and decay? Heaven will be so much better! So we are encouraged in the midst of all this by God's promise that Jesus is coming back to redeem us. Paul expressed it well in Romans 5(2), "through [Jesus] we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice [NASV, exult] in the hope of the glory of God." Are you standing in that grace this morning, by faith in Christ? Are you EXULTING in hope of the glory God's got in store for you? What on this earthly plane could possibly compare with that?
THE UNDERWRITER'S GUARANTEE: WORDS MORE REAL THAN THE WORLD
In vv32-33 - maybe conscious He's just been talking about some faith-stretching stuff - Jesus pauses to underscore the certainty of these far-off events. The grammar of the repetition here is doubly emphatic. "Amen" He begins (or as English puts it, 'I tell you the truth'), "this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." Both times in the original language there's a sort of 'double negative' for strong emphasis - 'nope, no way!' Jesus is stressing His words and teaching are more real, more substantial than all creation. More trustworthy than the chair you're sitting on.
In John 6(63) He told the crowds, "The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life." Think back to Genesis 1(3 6 9 14 20 24), the account of creation: each of the six days begins, "And God said," etc. There's immense power in God's words, enough to create all that is. Jeremiah prophesied, ""Is not my word like fire," declares the LORD, "and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?" (Jer 23:29) We used to have this big heavy sledge-hammer around the farm growing up - you could use it to smash concrete to bits. Even cement walls - maybe not on the first or second blow, but keep pounding, and eventually it would crack and crumble. Jesus declares His words - His description of reality - will never pass away, but heaven and earth will. Yet, what percentage of born-again Christians in a recent survey said they believe there is absolute truth? (__)
PERSPECTIVE, PERCEPTIVE, PRAYERFUL
Like any good sermon, this discourse in Luke 21 closes with a section on application. Worldview has implications for daily life. First, Jesus gives a warning against losing PERSPECTIVE. V34, "Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap." In other words, be careful lest you become either wasted or worried. Wasted - by dissipation, 'nausea that follows a debauch; giddiness caused by too much wine'. Wasted by drunkenness. A couple of weeks ago when Constable Nesbitt visited youth group in connection with the topic of the dangers of over-drinking, he said in effect, "If people quit drinking, I'd be out of a job." Dissipation and drunkenness waste precious lives and cause people to lose perspective - what's most important.
But if you're the hyper-responsible type, Jesus has a warning here too, against worrying - letting the anxieties of life weigh you down. Do you fret and obsess over things you can't dontrol? Unlike the party crowd that maybe doesn't take life seriously enough, do you take life TOO seriously? Let God be in control; keep things in perspective. Don't be trapped worrying to death about things that won't matter in 50 years.
Second, Jesus commands us to remain PERCEPTIVE: v36, "Be always on the watch..." Very literally, "be sleepless" - by extension, keep awake and be ready - not like someone drowsing off at their post, but vigilant, alert. To what do we give our attention? Are we up early enough (or at some point in the day) to have a regular daily Bible reading time so you can tune your spirit in to the Holy Spirit's frequency?
And, last, PRAY. The Lord urges us to pray for strength to be able to do 2 things. First, strength "to escape all that is about to happen..." Don't be caught or dragged down in this world's snares. Second, we're to pray for strength "to stand before the Son of Man." (36) That's the ultimate goal: not just heaven as a better place, but to be able to stand unashamed and open and thankful before our Lord Jesus, hearing His approval - "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Master!"
The Day of Judgment will test the quality of each one's work, Paul reminds us - some will suffer loss and be saved as one escaping through the flames; while the work of others will outlast the fire as gold and silver outlast wood and straw (1Cor 3:12ff). How are you working? How much of your energy is devoted to Kingdom purposes? The mighty strength of Him who is 'able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or imagine' is available to us, it's even working within us already - as we obey Him (Eph 3:20).
THE PRESIDENT'S UNEXPECTED VISIT
Mexican jails aren't known for their tidiness or orderliness. Shortly after taking office as President of Mexico, Luis Echeverria decided to do something about this. Without giving any advance notice, he chose to visit the jails at midnight. He found guards away from their posts, prisoners not taken care of, and other gaps between the expectations and reality. He proceeded to fire people and clean up the system.
When our Lord returns - and judging by the signs it could be anytime - when Jesus comes, may He find us alert and ready to stand before Him, rather than dissipated or weighed down with the wrong objectives! Let's pray.