2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13
Luke 21: 5–19
Not only is A.D. 2019 quickly slipping away from us, the church year in which we explore the Gospel according to Luke is passing away, too. As I pointed out during my sermon this past Sunday, Jesus spoke the words that Janice read to us during the week leading up to his crucifixion, in the city of Jerusalem where he would die. The previous week’s gospel lesson, the well-loved story of that “wee little man” Zacchaeus, took place in the city of Jericho, when Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. Now, so to say, Jesus is there.
Since we read the stories of Jesus’ triumphal entry into the Holy City on the Sunday before Easter each year, we won’t go through that again now. But during this month before the Advent and Christmas season (and the start of the new church year), we read things that Jesus said during his final week in Jerusalem. Luke reports: Every day [Jesus] was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard. (Luke 19:47-48) There is something special about someone’s “last words” – and we have these records of Jesus’ last words before his sacrificial death on the cross.
From the time Jesus approached the city of Jerusalem, all of his stories and sayings began to focus on the end of the world as they knew it, and on God’s final judgment. I think it’s important to note that when Jesus taught the people during his final week, he was not trying to bring them down: he was still telling them “the good news” (Luke 20:1). As we Christians read the Bible, we ought to notice that even ‘the end of the world’ is good news for us.
Thus says the LORD God: ...
I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
-Isaiah 65: 13, 17
[John the Revelator writes, ]
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth;
for the first heaven and the first earth
had passed away,
and the sea was no more.
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
-Revelation 21: 1 – 2
In our Sunday evening Bible study of the Book of Revelation, we keep coming upon scenes where wild and apparently horrible things are occurring, but careful reading reveals that God’s people are kept safe throughout, to the very end and beyond— even though they may be killed, martyred for their faithfulness. God always judges in favor of His beloved people and brings them at last into the New Jerusalem.
In this week’s reading from Luke, Jesus tells his disciples and the crowd, “they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify.” (Luke 21:12-13) I know what you must think about that: ‘Oh, goody!’ – right ?
Around our little country church and our quiet little town of Elkton (“how still we see thee lie...”), I have not yet managed to get arrested or dragged before the authorities on account of my faith. Have you?
But we might have been across the mountain in Charlottesville in the summer of 2017 to stand with the Christians against the Nazis and other haters, risking being harmed by them.
Or we might have stood with the family of Botham Jean in a Dallas courtroom last month, when Mr. Jean’s brother Brandt said to the policewoman who had killed his brother, “I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want for you.” “I love you as a person, and I don't wish anything bad on you.” And to the judge: “Can I give her a hug, please?”
I am not saying that facing the haters in Charlottesville or making a Victim Impact Statement in a courtroom is, in itself, “good news.” I don’t imagine that any of us would happily rush to stand in the shoes of the Christians in scenes like those. But Jesus warned us that we might have to do and say similar things, if we remain faithful to him.
More good news: Jesus also promised us that he would give us the words and wisdom we will need.