“Standing Firm And Gaining Life” 5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “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.” 7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” 8 He replied: “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. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” 10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. 12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life. — Luke 21:5-19
Once upon a time there was a woman married to an annoying man. He would complain about everything. One day he went to the creek with his mule. He complained so much that the mule got annoyed and kicked him to death. At the funeral, when all the men walked by the wife shook her head yes and every time a woman walked by, she shook her head no.
The minister asked, “Why are you shaking your head yes for the men and no for the women?” Her response was, “The men would say how sorry they felt for me, and I was saying, ‘Yes, I’ll be alright.’ The women walked by; they were asking me if the mule was for sale.”
This story that I have read for you this morning is referred to as “The Olivet Discourse” because it was delivered on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. It appears in all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) but each writer shares a different version.
From the very beginning of our text, it is obvious that the disciples are very impressed by the Temple, for after all, it was the center for those who worshipped God. It was the largest and most prominent building in Jerusalem and could be seen from miles outside of the city.
Allow me to try and out this into context. Jesus was only a few days away from His Cross, but the disciples were impressed by the grandness of the Temple—their focus wasn’t where it should have been.
Do you ever feel distracted? It’s one of the church’s biggest problems.
The Temple where they are at is actually the third Temple on this same sight. Solomon’s Temple, built between 961-954 B.C was destroyed by the Babylonian army in 587 B.C. The second temple was completed in 515 B.C by the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem after their exile in Babylon. The ark of covenant from the original Temple had been destroyed and wasn’t replaced; and the partition that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was replaced with a curtain or a veil (which was torn from top to bottom as Jesus died on the Cross)..
In 10 B.C., Herod the Great decided to add to the Temple. He didn’t do so for the noble reason of pleasing God, he did so to show off his great wealth and power. It was much larger and grander than the first two with several outer courts added. This would have been the Temple where Joseph and Mary brought the baby Jesus to be dedicated. This Temple was eventually destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.
In our text today, some 40-years later, though not finished, with its immense wealth, it was already in its own way one of the wonders of the world. Some of its huge blocks of green or white marble measured 67 feet in length, 7 feet in height, and 9 feet in width. The eastern front and part of the side walls were covered with gold plate, flashing in the sun; the rest of it gleaming white, so that one beholding it from a distance might think it to be a mountain of snow.
It’s easy for us to see why the disciples were so taken by being in the Temple but Jesus is trying to get them to see beyond the rocks and the mortar, beyond life here and now; Jesus is talking about eschatology—which is a big word that means the study of the “end times,” or the end of history. In the church today we don’t spend enough time speaking about eschatology! Jesus understood that man is born in search of death. Jesus knew He was about to die, He knew the disciples were all going to die; and in our lesson for today He is trying to help them to understand the signs to come.
I had the opportunity to do some ghost writing this week. One of my best friends called me with a problem. His 23-year-old niece, who was nine months pregnant, died in a car crash. His problem was that his brother wanted him to speak at her funeral and he had no idea what to say. He first shared with me that he kept going back to Ecclesiastes: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die.” I had to help him understand that this was the Holy Spirit guiding him in what he needed to be thinking and saying.
As the day went on, I sat down and wrote out some thoughts for him, thinking about what Jesus is saying to the disciples in our lesson this morning. We are all going to die. We don’t know or get to pick when—where—or how it’s going to happen. But happen it will (Are you with me?). I think it’s important that rather than fret over when are time is going to come, that we make the most out of the time we are granted. That we should live each day and each moment of that day like our next breath will be our last. To not put things off until it’s too late. I’m sure you’ve heard the analogy of the two dates on our tombstone and the dash in between. How the dash represents what we did with our life. May your dash be filled with love—of God—and of others.
Jesus had the sad task of telling His disciples that their magnificent center of Jewish life and faith was destined for destruction. And not only that, Jesus said, His followers would also experience persecution and violence of their commitment to Him. Life as they knew it was going to fall apart.
In verse 6, Jesus says, “As for what you see here…” Those are powerful words. It’s so easy to put our faith—to anchor our hope—in the things we can touch and see in this world. It’s so easy to be impressed by appearances—by possessions—by symbols of security—even though some of these symbols are superficial and, in some cases, not even real.
Was it curiosity that prompted their questions? If it was, we can be sure that Jesus had no intention to satisfy them. He wasn’t a soothsayer, nor fortuneteller, gazing into the crystal ball of the future, pulling aside the curtain for some momentary glimpse of the things God has hidden.
The disciples were not to have reserved seats at the cosmic drama that Jesus describes for them; watching it play itself out. They would be the first, but they would not be the last, to stand as Jesus stood before the tribunals of church and state to give an account of their allegiance.
This text tells us that the future is not in our hands, not left up to us, and is not dependent upon us for its ultimate fate. Scripture like we have read today is primarily a way of seeing the future; to look at the future as if God will finally get what God wants and bring all things to glorious fulfillment and gracious consummation. Through scripture such as this we are assured that the Lord of the beginning is also the Lord of the end (Alpha and Omega).
Jesus tells the disciples about a number of signs that they will see; those who will come claiming to be Him, nation rising against nation; earthquakes, famines and pestilences. But before all of this happens men will lay hands on them and persecute them. Jesus indicates that they will be taken to the synagogues first; eventually the new converts and believers of Jesus were thrown out of the synagogues and forced to find places or their own in which to worship. The early Christians not only faced the persecution of the Romans but also the hatred of the Jews. Most all the churches planted by the Apostle Paul which later received letters of encouragement were simply small groups that met in someone’s home.
But these persecutions will result in the disciples being witnesses to those who persecute them. I knew a Pastor who also worked as an uber driver. He said he helped more people with the gospel driving them around in his car than he ever did in a church building.
The disciples weren’t to worry about defending themselves. Jesus promised that He Himself would give His persecuted disciples words and wisdom that none of their adversaries would be able to resist or contradict. More simply put—we’ll have intelligence that will blow their mind! I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like I’ve ever possessed intelligence that startled people and I know that I could never possess it on my own.
Jesus is reminding us that all the earthly things that we put our trust in will one day be destroyed. Because the kingdom of God isn’t something we can touch or see. It is the Spirit of God working in our human hearts to bring about holiness and justice, righteousness and peace until the day that Jesus comes again.
My encouragement coach has been on a kick lately about our “inmost being.” I think I finally figured something out. God has stamped Himself in our inmost being. It’s from there that we love God with our whole heart, mind and soul. And it’s from there that we are able to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We love, because He loved us first—and He has stamped us!
We are all in search of something while we travel this road called life: success, financial security, fame, long life; the list could go on and on. But we already possess what we need; all we need to do is let it out. For those of us who believe, we possess Jesus in our hearts. That’s our answer folks! That’s all we need to know! He promises words and wisdom that none of our adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. He promises to go with us—wherever we are going. And He promises that by standing firm we will gain life!