Religion Magazine

Be A Lert! Luke 21.25-36

By Malcolmdrogers
Luke 21.25-36
Be A Lert! Luke 21.25-36
Be alert! It is going to get rough.
Jesus has been visiting the temple in Jerusalem.
The temple was the spiritual, political and emotional heart of the Jewish nation. It was the place which set the Jewish people aside from all the other peoples. It was where God had said that his name would dwell.
But now, says Jesus, this temple will be destroyed. Not one stone will be left on another.
For the Jew, this was unthinkable, like the end of everything, the end of the world.
And so the disciples ask in shock, ‘When will this be, and what sign will we be given that this is about to happen?’
And Jesus tells them that before it happens it is going to get rough. He tells them that there will be wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes, families and plagues. There will be persecution. Jerusalem will be surrounded by armies.
This is cataclysmic stuff.
Jesus uses apocalyptic language, the picture language that was used by prophesy at the time: signs in the sun, the moon and the stars. Distress among nations. The roaring of sea and waves. ‘People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world’ (v26)
It is going to get rough
There is a debate about Luke 21.
Is Jesus just speaking about the destruction of the temple?
That would make sense of verse 32, ‘Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place’.
He spoke these words sometime between AD 30 and 33, and Jerusalem was sacked and the temple destroyed in AD 70, 40 years - one generation - later.
Or does Jesus supplement his answer about the destruction of the temple by also speaking about the end of time? So he is talking both about the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world. Is he saying that the destruction of Jerusalem is a sort of preview, prototype for the final judgment of the world?
In which case, ‘this generation’ in v32 would refer to the Jewish people as a whole.
It all depends on how you understand ‘the son of man coming in a cloud’ (a quote from Daniel 7) with power and great glory. Is that speaking about the vindication of Jesus when the temple will be destroyed, or is it speaking - as I would take it - about the second coming of Christ?
But however we understand this passage, the important thing is that Jesus is tells his followers - and through them, us - that it is going to get rough - really rough before the end comes.
So we need to be on our guard. We need to be alert.
1. We are to be people who LOOK AND WATCH
I love meerkats. We saw them in Moscow zoo. They are adorable.
But we need to be like a meerkat on watch.
It is early spring, and Jesus tells his followers to look at a fig tree.
And, he says, when the leaves begin to appear, you know that summer is near.
Well, he continues, when you see all this stuff happening: wars and rumours of wars and plagues (we know about that) and persecutions and people fainting from fear and foreboding - great bit of alliteration there - you know that the Kingdom of God is coming.
It is very easy, when we see awful things, dreadful suffering, when we hear of wars or genocides or tsunamis or refugee crises or apocalyptic climate change or plagues or persecutions, to shut our doors, to close our eyes, to become blind and emotionally numb to the awful things that happen in our world.
We opt out: we go shopping or seek some form of entertainment. We prefer to click on the instagram of the cute cat clip or follow the latest celebrity for the fashion and the gossip. We opt out and plunge ourselves into an excess of living in the here and now, we get lost playing virtual games in a virtual world which we can control.
And we blind ourselves to the real suffering that there is, and - for that matter - to the reality of death.
In v34, Jesus says, ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life …’
It is the worries of this life which cause us to fear and to faint.
But it is also the worries of this life which, quite literally, drive us to drink and to plunge ourselves into excess. Dissipation, in Greek, comes from the word meaning the hangover headache, the headache that comes after the night before, a headache that has come from excess.
And it is a trap. All this dulls the brain. It weighs us down. It means we do not really see the world as it is. We don’t see the pain and the suffering and fear.
We don’t see the leaves, the signs.
Don’t be blind, says Jesus. Keep alert. Be real about the world that you live in.
Yes, there is much beauty and goodness. Theologians call this God’s ‘general grace’, the grace that is poured out on all of us. Without that general grace, we would live in some Dante-esque Darwinian hell, isolated from each other, fearful of each other, in a naked ‘survival of the fittest’ world - doing what I can for myself and those I love and trampling over everybody else.
But the suffering that we see, the wars and rumours of wars, creation tearing itself into pieces, are not a sign that God does not exist or that God does not love us. Far from it. They are a sign that this world is not yet the Kingdom of God, that it is the kingdom of this world, ruled by the father of lies. We are told by Jesus that in this world we will have troubles.
And they are also a sign that this world is coming to an end. 
Indeed as that end gets closer - it tries to fight harder. It will get rougher.
But it is defeated.
So be like a meerkat. Looking and watching
2. We are to be people who RAISE OUR HEADS
‘When you see these things take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near’. (V28)
We have a hope. One day our Lord Jesus will return.
We say it in the creed, ‘He will come again in glory’.
I have been a follower of the Lord Jesus for all my life.
But for many years I struggled with the teaching about the second coming.
How could Jesus return in a way that everyone would see?
Will he come floating in on a cloud?
Will we all have to travel to Jerusalem to see him?
And when the bible talks about meeting him in the air when he returns, what does that mean? Will the laws of gravity be suspended?
And what would be the relationship between the Jesus who I know who is beside me and in me, and of whom I am a part, and the Jesus who would then be standing on some platform - as I imagined it - far away in the distance, with millions of people in between me and him?
But this is where philosophy can help us.
We can only think in terms of space and time. And yet when Christ returns in glory, it will be the end of space and time as we know it. So we cannot possibly imagine this event.
In other words, all the descriptions that the bible gives us of the return of Christ are pictures.
They are true pictures, but they are only part of the picture. There is so much more.
We are like cartoon characters who live in a two dimensional world, and on that day we will come alive into a three dimensional world.
The truth is simple.
After a time of great suffering, a time of troubles, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, will return with power and great glory.
He will be revealed as King, as Messiah, as Son of God. He will bring in the Kingdom, the rule of God.
There will be a final judgment.
And even though we cannot begin to imagine how it will happen, or what it means to say ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’, we are told with certainty that this will happen.
‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away’ (v33)
That is why, when we see the terrible things that happen in this world, when terrible things happen to our people or to those we love or even to ourselves, we don’t need to be people who drown our sorrows, who bury our heads in the sand.
We can be people who can face reality as it is, and who can still lift up our heads, waiting for our deliverance and redemption. We are people who have a hope.
Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has written a recent book called Looking East in Winter. He takes the title from a phrase that was used by the 5th century Bishop Diadochos. He is standing with all the forces of winter, the snow and the wind and the cold, beating on him. But he is looking East, at the sun as it is rising, bringing the promise of warmth to a freezing world.
We raise our heads because we have a hope. The new dawn is coming.
3. We are to be people who TRUST AND PRAY
‘Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man’. (v36)
It is all very well being aware of these things, of keeping our eyes open and seeing the signs in the sun and moon and stars as the death pangs of our fallen world
It is all very well being told that Jesus Christ will return in glory and come as both judge and to bring in the Kingdom in its fullness
But it will make no difference to us unless this truth comes into our hearts and minds and lives in us.
And that will only happen if we ask God to make it happen, to have mercy on us, to come and live with us and in us and for us to live as part of him.
And that is prayer.
We pray the line in the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray: ‘Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil’.
We pray, ‘help me to stand firm, in the face of overwhelming terrors and monsters, knowing that they are a sign of the end. Help me to raise my head and hold on to your promise, help me remain faithful to you’.
That word is used 9 times in the New Testament.
Four times in the gospels, Jesus warns us to be alert because of the last days.
Be alert against false teachers (Acts 20:31)
Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong (1 Corinthians 16:13)
Keep alert and always persevere in prayer for all the saints (Ephesians 6:18)
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2)
Discipline yourselves, keep alert. The devil is like a roaring lion prowling around you (1 Peter 5:8)
Do we get the point?!
This next bit is going to be a nightmare for Natalya who often translates my sermons into Russian - I would suggest you forget it. But I hope that it helps you to remember a little of what I have said.
When it says, ‘keep alert’, I like to think of that as ‘keep a lert’ where a lert is a creature a bit like a meerkat: head raised, with wide open eyes.
And this creature, this lert
Looks and watches
Raises his head
Trusts God and prays.

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