I was working for some time on what I would say in the final sermon in the series on Luke 21. A change of circumstances in our church family meant that what I originally planned no longer seemed to be the right sermon for the occasion. So here is what was eventually preached…
Well this morning we come to our third and final look at Luke chapter 21.
When we started this little series of sermons, I touched on how some of us may have felt – that the approach we are taking to this chapter could make it feel somewhat irrelevant. Having spent the whole of our time two weeks ago developing the implications of Luke 21 for today, I hope it’s now clear that this material in Luke’s gospel is everything but irrelevant. It has a lot to say to us today, and the plan for this morning is to develop some more of the ways in which this chapter impacts us, as a church, today.
Let me tell you the areas of life that I was planning on addressing from this chapter this morning: They all concern how we, as a church, relate to the world “out there” that is not church.
I wanted us to spend some time thinking about how we, as a church, should relate to the land of Israel, or Palestine, and to the city of Jerusalem. I wanted us to spend some time thinking about how we, as a church, should relate to individuals we know who are not yet followers of Christ. And I wanted us to spend some time thinking about how we, as a church, should relate to the many other commitments we all have besides church – relationships, work and so on.
Those are big topics! We could never have hoped to have said everything that there is to say about even one of those topics, so all we’d have had time to do is to think a little about how this one chapter, Luke chapter 21, impacts on these areas.
But I’m afraid we’re not even going to do that today! Those topics I just mentioned are really important areas of life, and they would be worth exploring at some point. I’ll stick the text of (something like the sermon I might have given) online if anyone is interested.
But as I’ve reflected on things it didn’t seem that those were the right implications to think through together this morning. Instead I want us to think together how this chapter, Luke 21, impacts on the hope that we have as Christians. What are the implications of Luke 21 for the Christian hope?
So we’re still on implications of Luke 21 for today, but we’re on implications for the hope we share rather than on a different set of implications.
But first, we’d better recap what we’ve been saying about this chapter, in case you’ve been away.
If you’ve been here for the past few weeks as we’ve looked at this chapter, you’ll know that we are taking the approach that Jesus is promising the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans in A.D. 70. That is what the entire chapter is about.
Lots of us will have read this chapter in years gone by and instinctively thought that it concerns the final return of Jesus to judge the world – what we often call the second coming. That is because the air we breathe is the Christian heritage we have grown up in, that assumes that language of the sun and moon stopping shining must refer to the end of the world. What I tried to show a few weeks back is that if we come to this chapter breathing the air of the Old Testament instead, we will still have an instinct as to what this passage is about, but it will be a very different instinct. What instinct you have when you come to a passage likes this depends on the air you’ve been breathing. And Jesus’ breath is heavy with the smell of the Old Testament, as opposed to the air of 21st century assumptions.
Which is why we’ve been talking about this passage in terms of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, as opposed to the return of Jesus to raise and judge the whole world. Both those events are events when Jesus comes to judge and then to bring new life for his people. The fall of Jerusalem and the end of the temple is Jesus’ judgement, in the here and now, on the city that rejected him, the temple system that ironically had no space for him, and the people who did not want to know him.
Jesus will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and to usher in a remade world.But he is a living, reigning and ascended Lord now. His rule is real and effective. We don’t have to wait for his final return before he becomes the reigning Lord of this world, the Lord of the nations and the Lord of his church. He doesn’t just reign; he rules. And he isn’t just Lord of individual people; he is Lord of cities, Lord of nations, Lord of institutions. We thought about that last time.
And the event where we can see that Jesus occupies this position, that he is the one functionally running this world, is his judgment of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans. There are two reasons why that one event is so pivotal. First, Jesus was rejected by Jerusalem, so if he is now the reigning Lord of this world we need to see this exercised in the very place where we might doubt that he rules: Jerusalem. And secondly, many countries, institutions and empires come and go and we do not know what is going on behind the scenes, in the mind of God. But this event has been interpreted to us by Jesus; he tells us to understand it as demonstrating his rule.
Picture a school that is struggling in many respects. The local authority dismisses half of the staff after class 10D murder the head teacher during a lesson. They parachute in a brave new headmistress to sort things out. One year in, the school is a new school, and things are on the up, so they call The Sentinel in to report on the progress. The headmistress could show them lots of bits of school life to demonstrate that she has turned things around. The sports field, the quality of the food, any of it. But she takes the reporters in to see a lesson in class 10D, now called 11D. She has to go there doesn’t she? If she’s not in charge of 10D, she’s not in charge of the school.
So, in Luke 21 Jesus is telling us that he now rules this world as the Son of Man. He doesn’t reign in a token capacity; he is an active ruler who moves in judgement here and now; he’s an active ruler who moves to bless his people here and now; it’s not all saved up for later. And he tells us where to look to see that this is the case: We are to look at the temple and the city of Jerusalem in the year 70 A.D.
So what are the implications of all this for the Christian hope? I want to develop three areas.
Jesus Really is in Control of this World.
First, this chapter tells us that Jesus Really is in Control of this World. Jesus Really is in Control of this World.
We’ve thought about this a little already this morning. Jesus won’t just be Lord in the future, he’s Lord now. But there’s more that we can say.
In the Old Testament, God frequently has to tell his people not to worship idols. An idol is nothing like him. He is the real God. Idols are not. And one of the ways God teaches his people to distinguish him from an idol is this: God is in control, and an idol is not. So God plans the future, but an idol does not. So God can tell you what will happen in the future, whereas an idol cannot. Ask an idol what God has planned for this world and it can’t tell you. But God can, because he is the real God, and because he is in control.
Now here comes the rub. That’s all well and good, but things often happen in our lives that God didn’t tell us about beforehand. We know that God is in control, but it doesn’t always feel that way.
So when we talk about the Lord Jesus Christ, when we talk about his love for us and his plans for us, who are we talking about here? Which category would the Old Testament put him in? The real God or an idol? If he’s a powerless and useless idol then we talk all we like about his love and care for us but it is meaningless.
And that is where Luke 21 comes in. It’s not just God in the Old Testament who shows himself to be the real God by telling us what will happen. Jesus, in this chapter, tells us that he will bring about the fall of Jerusalem within a generation. And he does it. This is not a man whose words are empty and meaningless. This is a man who claims that the living God has placed him over every nation in this world, and who can back up his claims.
Imagine that the company you work for is looking to employ some new people and they involve you in the interview process. Or imagine that you are yourself looking for a job and are about to be interviewed. The person being interviewed can make all the claims they like about what they can do, and what they would do if they were given the job. But you can’t beat examples. “I’m capable of managing a budget of 10 million pounds.” Yeah, right! Of course I can, I’ve been doing it for the past three years. Ask my referees.
Well Jesus claims in this chapter that he is in control of this world. He claims that that control is functional and for real, not just a nice idea. And he can provide evidence to back up his claim.
Which means that as we think about the love of the Lord Jesus shown to us in his death on the cross, as we read about and reflect upon his promises to us in the gospel, those are not empty promises. These are not the words of an egotistical Jew from the first century who had ideas above his station. These are the words of the one who rose from the dead and is now Lord of all, and we can see that Lordship at work.
Jesus still won’t explain his purposes behind every event in our lives. Things will still happen, the specifics of which he has not foretold. But one way in which Luke 21 impacts upon the Christian hope is by telling us that Jesus really is in control of this world. Be assured. He is. And he knows what he is doing.
Jesus’ people is truly international.
The second implication I want to develop is that Jesus’ people is truly international. Jesus’ people is truly international.
What we need to realise here is that 1st Century Judaism was a very exclusive religion. Only someone who was born a Jew could worship the God of the Jews.
Now that needs some qualification. The Jews of Jesus’ day would have divided the Gentiles, those who were not Jews, into 3 groups. There were the outright Gentiles, who had nothing at all to do with the God of Israel. There were the God-fearers, like Cornelius was before he became a Christian. God-fearers were intrigued by, interested in the God of the Jews, but did not wish to become a Jew in order to worship him. And third there were proselytes who had decided that they wanted to worship the God of Israel. If they were male, they were circumcised; they became a Jew, and they became subject to some of the laws of the Jews.
So strictly speaking, a Gentile, someone who is not a Jew, could worship the God of the Jews. But to do so they had to become a Jew. You couldn’t remain a Gentile and worship the God of the Jews. And even when they had done that, they didn’t have full access to God.
Most notably the temple of Jesus’ day was divided into a number of courts. And Gentiles could only enter the outermost court. Even if they became a proselyte, they could not go any further. In fact, there were big multi-lingual signs up telling Gentiles that the penalty for going any deeper into the temple was death. And the Romans fully allowed the Jews to exercise this death penalty.
As I say, the Judaism of Jesus’ day was very exclusive. Unless you were a Jew, you were either excluded from the people of God, or you were a part of them in a very second-class capacity.
We won’t do it this morning, but at some point you might like to read Ephesians chapter 2. Jesus’ death changed all of this once and for all. When Jesus died on the cross, he tore down the dividing wall in the temple. Gentiles no longer need to be far off, cut off, strangers to God. Now we Gentiles can be fellow citizens with the Jews, full members of God’s household.
Jesus’ death changed everything. The barrier between Jew and Gentile was broken down. And that process that began at Jesus’ death came to its conclusion when the physical temple, the physical dividing wall was torn down 40 years later. That was the point when the original tenants in God’s vineyard were destroyed; from then on, the vineyard could be considered to be in the hands of new tenants.
All of this means that there will never again be a time when Gentiles are second-class citizens in God’s people. Now we are one people of God. And the one people of God is a truly multinational reality. The book of Revelation tells us that it will include those of every tribe, nation and tongue. It will include many who are racially Jewish and who have come to trust and delight in Christ. And it will include many who are Gentiles and who come from every nation under heaven.
Which is why I say that what Jesus teaches in Luke 21 means that Jesus’ people is truly international. It means that Gentile Christians like us are full members of his people.
When I was a child I lived in Liverpool for 3 years. It was the time of the Toxteth riots. Huge divisions between the black Liverpudlian community and the police. It was a time of great rivalry between Liverpool and Everton. We’re all well aware of the divisions of recent years in Northern Ireland. We can remember East and West Berlin. You get communities even today that divide straight down the middle into two groups. Well those divisions are nothing compared to the ancient one between Jew and Gentile, and in the 40 year period between Jesus’ death and what he foretells in this chapter that division was dismantled.
So how does this relate to our Christian hope? Well where do you and I fit into God’s purposes? If we are Christians, we are part of God’s people. This church, and the people in it, is not some secondary interest to God whilst his real focus and delight remains with the Jewish race. Those days are gone. No: This church, and the people in it, is right at the heart of God’s plan for this world, and right at the heart of what God has lined up for the future.
So if you are a Christian, a disciple of the Lord Jesus, what future awaits you in the new creation? Will your room have no windows? Will you be tucked away in the black and white section? Will you have a seat at the back where you can’t see what’s going on? Will there be a no entry sign at certain points of the new creation: “Sorry, Jews only!” No. None of those things.
If you are a Christian, a disciple of the Lord Jesus, you are not a second class citizen in God’s kingdom. God is a God of grace, and that means that there are no second class citizens. God is generous and gracious, and every Christian has the amazing privilege of being a full member of the people that God has chosen to bless and set his name upon.
Jesus’ Victory is Visible
Jesus really is in control of this world. Jesus’ people is truly international. And third, Jesus’ victory is visible. Jesus’ victory is visible.
When Jesus died on the cross, did he defeat all his enemies? Yes. Colossians 2 tells us that at Jesus’ death, he disarmed the rulers and the authorities and triumphed over them in the cross.
But how do we know that the cross was a victory not a defeat? We look to the resurrection. Death could not hold him. He was not a weak, defeated victim. He was the victor. As Ephesians tells us, God raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand, far above every other power and authority.
So at Jesus’ death, every power and authority that is opposed to him was defeated. And we know that this is the way to see the cross because of the resurrection.
But is there any physical evidence that Jesus is now in charge, that his enemies are defeated, and that it is only a matter of time before he winds up all opposition to him? Well it’s back to where we began and to my imaginary class 10D. Yes, the fall of Jerusalem. This is the event that he interprets to us as evidence that he is the victor. That those who put him to death do not have the last word, but that he has the last word.
And so when the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 with absolute certainty that the last enemy to be destroyed will be death, we know that this is so. When Revelation chapter 20 speaks of death and Hades being thrown into the lake of fire, we know that this will take place. We know this because Jesus rose from the dead. But equally importantly, we know this because we can see that his resurrection was the victory that he claimed it to be.
Jesus died on the cross and vanquished all his enemies. Jesus rose from the dead so that we might know that the cross is a victory and not a defeat. And then Jesus came back to those who did not want him to be king and administered his justice so that we might see and be sure that his power over his enemies is for real.
We said earlier on that there are times when it is hard to hold onto the fact that Jesus is in control. At times like this, this chapter of Luke is designed to reassure us that Jesus is in control. Luke 21 serves to reassure us at this point as well. There are times when it is hard to hold onto the fact that Jesus has won, has defeated, has beaten, has conquered every foe of his. There are times when it is hard to hold onto the fact that it is only a matter of time before death is not only defeated but removed from this world for good. And at times like this, this chapter of Luke is designed to reassure us that Jesus is victorious. It reassures us by showing us where we can see his victory.
So, the time has come to leave behind Luke 21. But my prayer is that this chapter has left its impression on us. That impression is supremely that Jesus is Lord. It is true that he will be Lord. But Luke 21 tells us that Jesus is now Lord. Lord of the nations. Lord of his church. Son of Man. King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. It is a glorious truth that Jesus Christ is Lord.
And it is a glorious truth, not least because of what we have been thinking about together this morning. The fact that Jesus is Lord now is the grounds and basis of our hope. If he were only to become Lord at some point in the future, we would never know whether the current office-holders of “Lord of this world” were going to move over and let him become Lord. We would never be sure that he is able to deliver the goods in the future.
But he isn’t waiting for it to be his turn to run things. He is Lord, and he is Lord now. Which means that everything that happens in this world is under his loving, gracious control. It means that he has defeated his enemies once and for all – nobody tells him what to do!
Which means that we can either come in, or we can stay outside and be defeated by him. The one thing we can’t do is stay outside and think that we will beat him. We won’t.
But we can come to him, come inside, and find shelter under his Lordship. And those who takes refuge in him will not be disappointed.