[buzzsprout episode=’472179′ player=’true’]
February 5, 2017
Pastor Jeff Struecker
We’re moving our way through the book of Luke. Today we’re in Chapter 21. I have lots of ground to cover in what I believe to be and I think some other scholars would argue the most important passage in the entire New Testament that speaks to the end of times. There’s recent research by the Pew Research group that asked the question from church people, “What subject would you want your pastor to talk about, if you could choose the topic?” The number one answer to the question is, “We want the pastor to talk to us about the end of times.” Well today that’s what we’re going to look at from the book of Luke chapter 21.
I. The church will outlast the building
If this is your first Sunday in church or you are new to Christianity, let me explain some terms for us. The people of God are the church of God. We’re just simply meeting in a building. In other words, this building is not the church. It’s the people of God that come to the building that make up the church. Technically speaking what you just heard from Romans Chapter 8 is that the sons and daughters of God are the church of God. The church is a home. This building is just a house and the house doesn’t become a home until the people make it a home. What Jesus is going to say for us today is that long after this building ceases to exist his church will go on for eternity.
Some of his disciples began talking about the majestic stonework of the Temple and the memorial decorations on the walls. But Jesus said, 6 “The time is coming when all these things will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” 7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to take place?”
There are two questions that were asked. “Jesus, when is this going to happen and how can we know that it’s about to go down? What is the sign that we should be looking for?” Often when people are asking Jesus for a sign he gets mad and he fusses at them because basically they’re coming to Jesus looking for a magic worker. They really aren’t interested in meeting the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Today his disciples asked him a serious question so he gave them an honest answer to this question, “You want to know the signs? Let me tell you what the signs are going to be.”
Now he starts a discussion about the Temple. Depending on the translation of the Bible that you have in front of you it may use the word sanctuary. That’s really how this word would be better interpreted. Let me tell you something about the word sanctuary. A sanctuary is a safe place. We use the word sanctuary to describe where you would go to protect animals or people. You would set up a sanctuary, a safe place, for them. Jesus is saying, “Your safe place is about the no longer be safe anymore.” When the sanctuary is no longer safe what really is safe? Jesus uses a discussion about the Temple. In Jesus’s day here’s what the Temple looked like. It was a massive structure on the top of a hill. It was made out of white stone. The stone was so white that most of the ancient rabbis said the building looked like snowcapped peaks from a distance. That’s how big it was. It was covered with gold all over the place. Lots and lots of money was invested in the Temple in gold. So much gold, that when the sun was shining on it people really couldn’t look directly at it because the gold would reflect the sunlight. This was an equivalent to one of the wonders of the ancient world. That’s how significant this building was. The rabbis taught you really haven’t even seen a beautiful building until you’ve seen the Temple.
Here’s what Jesus is saying. There’s coming a day when this whole building is going to cease to exist. Now for Luke this is so important to Jesus’s followers that he has told us three times this is going to happen. He’s briefly hinted at in chapter 13. He talked about it in detail in chapter 19. Here we are in chapter 21 and Jesus is saying, “This is coming soon so prepare yourself!” Church historians teach that this Temple would soon be overwhelmed. When the city of Jerusalem was seized and ultimately destroyed by the Roman army, the Temple would be completely dismantled. Notice Jesus is saying something shocking today. Jesus is saying, “As massive as the structure is, as impressive as the structure is, it’s not going to exist for much longer.” People would’ve been shocked.
Then what he said next would’ve been to some sacrilegious because they believe the Temple to be the dwelling place of God so why would God let his building be destroyed, especially by some pagan army? I think Jesus is reminding us of something. Buildings don’t contain the people of God. The dwelling place of God is now inside his people. In fact, the New Testament teaches that the temple of the living God is where the Holy Spirit dwells and the Holy Spirit dwells inside of you the follower of Jesus. So the Bible tells us that now your body is the temple of the living God. Your body is where the Holy Spirit dwells. It’s no longer a building that you go to.
We understand this better than most people around here Jesus is saying that all of this stuff that you see around here: the hundred thousand dollars that we’re dropping into signs, the steeple, and this structure itself is all temporary. It could be gone in an instant. If you have been in the church for a while, this is very real for you. In March 2007 a tornado came through the north part of Columbus and many of the buildings on this campus were damaged. The Worship Center that used to be here was completely destroyed. Did it slow this church down? Did the church cease to exist when that happened? No, because the church outlasts far and away the building that contains it. Then why are we dropping in 100 grand into signs around here? That’s an easy question to answer. Those signs are not for you. The signs are for people that have never been on this campus before and don’t have the first clue about what we do here and how to get around on this campus. If I had more money, I’d spend more on signs but I just remember one of these days those signs will cease to exist. One of these days everything we see around us will be gone. That’s why we don’t call this room a sanctuary. We are God’s temple. We are God’s church. Jesus says don’t get too comfortable here because it’s relationships that go with you into Heaven. Everything else that you see around here: wood, hay, and stubble. It will all be burned up at the end. Don’t put your hope in the building because the church will outlast the building.
II. Find victory in the middle of suffering
You and I should find our victory in the middle, right in the heart, of suffering. Jesus says, “Don’t put your hope in the Temple. Don’t throw in the towel when things get hard.”
He replied, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and saying, ‘The time has come!’ But don’t believe them. 9 And when you hear of wars and insurrections, don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place first, but the end won’t follow immediately.” 10 Then he added, “Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from heaven. 12 But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. 13 But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. 14 So don’t worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you, 15 for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you! 16 Even those closest to you—your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends—will betray you. They will even kill some of you. 17 And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish! 19 By standing firm, you will win your souls.”
Here’s what Jesus is saying to us today. Don’t buy the lie! Don’t believe the counterfeit! Eusebius was a fourth century historian who said that 20 years after Jesus’s resurrection there were already many false teachers who had already showed up claiming to be Jesus. Many had already claimed to be bringing the end of the world with them. Luke writes this passage for us years after Jesus’s death and resurrection. There’s already been many false teachers on the scene. Luke tells us don’t believe the counterfeit. Don’t believe the lies. Don’t get tricked by believing false teachers. How do you not fall into the mistake of believing the lie? The answer is you become so familiar with the original that you can easily spot the counterfeit. When you do that you won’t be deceived or misled when the phony shows up on the scene. If you’re not careful, it’s going to feel like everything is spinning out of control. Listen to what Jesus is saying to us today. There will be national disasters. Kingdoms are going to go to war against each other. Nations are going to rise and nations are going to fall. You’ll be right in the middle of it. Not only national disasters but also natural disasters. There is going to be wars, earthquakes, and famine. It’s just going to get worse and worse. It’s going to feel like, “God, do you know what I’m going through? God, do you care? God, are you even able to do anything about it?”
Jesus says it’s going to be worse for you just because you’re his follower. Then people that loved you are going to turn their back on you. Jesus says you are going to get persecuted by the Jews. He’s talking about persecution in the synagogue. You’re going to get persecuted by the Jews. Then you’re going to get persecuted by governors, this is a Roman term. The Gentiles are going to hurt you. Basically everybody is going to try to hurt you because you claim to be Jesus’s follower. Right now all over the world (go to persecution.org) millions are suffering greatly because they claim the name of Jesus Christ. Jesus says, “Don’t freak out about it! Don’t worry. God knows exactly what you’re going through. He didn’t forget. He didn’t leave the throne for just a second. God knows what you’re about to experience.” By the way, don’t worry ahead of time about how you are going to answer them. God will give you the exact words to say so that what you say will go deep into the heart of the people around you.
I recently read a story by Freddy Sun called The Man in the Fiery Furnace. Freddy Sun was born in China to parents that called themselves Christian but they really didn’t go to church. Their faith didn’t really make any impact on him. Freddy was significantly impacted by his aunt and uncle. In fact, he says his uncle was the most devout man he’s ever met. It was his uncle that led him to faith in Christ. Freddy came to faith in Christ before the Communist revolution and before the cultural Revolution in China. When the Communists came to power, they attempted to stamp out all religion. They attempted through the cultural Revolution to destroy China’s history and faith. Freddy, as a grown man, was under immense persecution during this period of time. Ultimately he was turned into the local authorities. He spent more than 20 years of his life in prison. He almost died multiple times because of the hardship that he went through when he was imprisoned. Freddy says in his book the most painful part of this entire process was that it was his aunt that turned him in. The pressure on her became so great that she turned her back on her faith. The pressure on her became so great that she started to turn in her family members who were followers of Jesus. Freddy said he could take the suffering. He could take the prison. He could handle all of that but the fact that his aunt was the one who turned him in became so painful for him he almost couldn’t bear it. Freddy had to find a way to forgive his aunt. Ultimately God restored this woman’s faith because of Freddy and restored her to a relationship with him.
I was thinking this week of people in our church that are really struggling financially. I was thinking of some of you who reached out to me last week and said, “Jeff, we’re barely hanging on financially.” I was thinking of some of you that are struggling with cancer or with some other long-term illness. Your suffering and pain is unbearable. It’s natural and normal for you to say, “God, do you know what I’m going through? God, do you really care what’s happening to me? Are you really powerful enough to do anything about what I’m experiencing?” I want you to hear clearly what Jesus is saying from the book of Luke today. He’s saying when these things happen to you that may be the very platform God gives you to stand up and to speak to others about your faith. It may be your cancer that gives you the chance to talk to a doctor or nurse about your faith in Jesus. In fact, by the time you get to the book of Acts, Luke’s sequel to this, you already have great men of God like Stephen who stand up and boldly proclaims his faith in Jesus and they kill him for it. You have Jesus’s followers who are already standing before kings and emperors. Here’s what I was thinking today. God, if my suffering becomes a platform to tell kings, presidents, and emperors about your Son Jesus, then bring it on. Bring on as much suffering as you want, if that becomes the vehicle that gives me the privilege to talk to people about your Son.
III. Never give up hope
This church will outlast this building by millions of years. It’s going to feel tempting to throw in the towel when it gets hard and you start to suffer but no matter what happens to you don’t ever give up hope. Don’t ever stop believing that Jesus has it all under control. It is a lot like getting ready to have a baby. You go through some massive struggles, pain, and suffering but the beautiful baby after the suffering, after the pregnancy, after the labor makes it all worthwhile. Listen to what Jesus says next for us.
“And when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know that the time of its destruction has arrived. 21 Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. Those in Jerusalem must get out, and those out in the country should not return to the city. 22 For those will be days of God’s vengeance, and the prophetic words of the Scriptures will be fulfilled. 23 How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. For there will be disaster in the land and great anger against this people. 24 They will be killed by the sword or sent away as captives to all the nations of the world. And Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the period of the Gentiles comes to an end.”
It was said that right before Jerusalem was destroyed it was surrounded by the Roman army. Immediately after the Roman army completely encircled the city, they broke the walls down, crashed inside Jerusalem, and totally annihilated it. Actually what happened in the year 70 A.D. when the Roman army took Jerusalem has yet to be restored 2000 years later. Jesus is using this as a warning to his people. Be careful! This is the sign. This is the symbolism that it’s about to happen. Make sure that you’re ready now and pray to God that you don’t have a whole lot of responsibilities holding you back as it may be the very thing that costs you your life. What Jesus is doing here is he’s helping his people. Would you take your eyes off of what you see around you? Would you start to put your eyes where they really belong? Would you start to look through the eyes of faith? Would you start to have hope even when things start to get bad around you?
The Roman Emperor was so furious with the people of Jerusalem because they repeatedly rebelled. He made a decision, “I’m going to punish the city in such a way that the whole world will know that I poured my vengeance out.” This is the language that the Roman historians used to refer to what happened. This is Rome’s vengeance against the rebellious people. Church history teaches that when Jerusalem fell more than 1 million people died during the siege, the starvation, and ultimately the destruction of Jerusalem. It is said that almost 100,000 people were carted away into captivity on the day that Jerusalem fell. That’s the day the Temple was destroyed. For 2000 years Israel was in exile spread all over the world. It really wasn’t until 1948 that Israel was restored as a nation and Jerusalem once again became for the people of the Jews. The church building itself has never really been restored after this traumatic event. Jesus is saying that this wasn’t Rome’s vengeance against Jerusalem this was God’s. God was so fed up with the rebellion and the sin of his people that he was the one who sent the Roman army. God was the one who destroyed the city of Jerusalem. You can’t miss what Jesus is saying. God always punishes sin. Either you take the punishment for sin or Jesus takes the punishment for sin but somebody is going to have to suffer the wrath of God because of sin.
Pastor Alan was reminding me this week it’s a lot like having a baby, if you think about what Jesus is saying. Moms, you recognize that what goes on inside your body when you’re pregnant is absolutely mind-boggling. I mean hormones, organs moving around, and morning sickness. The five times that Dawn’s been pregnant I have prayed to God every time saying, “Thank you God for making me a man so that I don’t have to go through what that woman went through.” When she was in bed her body core temperature was about 1000° and I couldn’t even get in the same bed with her because she was so hot. When she was pregnant in August in South Georgia it was miserable. So why would any woman on the planet put her body through this? Here’s the answer. Two seconds after delivering the baby when the doctors and nurses cleaned that beautiful baby and put it in your lap it makes all of the suffering and pain worthwhile. It makes the hormones, the morning sickness and all it worth going through because there is the hope that God is going to give you this beautiful innocent child and the privilege of discipling and getting to know that child for the rest of your life. That’s the hope that you and I hang on to. We hang on to it right in the middle of suffering. God has you right in the palm of his hand even when stuff gets bad. So don’t throw in the towel and don’t give up hope. Whatever you do don’t give up hope!
IV. Heaven is worth the wait
Heaven is worth whatever suffering you and I go through here on planet Earth something really significant happens in your Bible in verse 25. I have to point it out before we get there, in the earlier part of this passage Jesus is giving a very vivid description about the destruction of Jerusalem and about the end of the Temple. Now Jesus turns the discussion to the end of the world and to what’s it going to be like when the end times come. Here’s why I believe this to be one of the most important passages, if not the most important passage, in the entire Bible on the end of times. When end times are mentioned in other places in your Bible, they show up in different kinds of literature. When the Psalms mention end times it uses poetry. Poetry often uses metaphors to describe something that’s about to happen. The other two really big sections of your Bible that talk about end times are the end of the book of Daniel and the book of Revelation. Those two books are called apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic literature uses symbols and signs to describe something that’s literally going to happen. It is really hard to interpret apocalyptic literature. I’ve never tried to preach Daniel or Revelation except the first three chapters of Revelation on purpose. What we’re reading here is narrative. Jesus is straightforward going to tell us this is what it’s going to be like when the world comes to an end. By the way, you can’t miss it. Don’t worry about the signs because it’s going to be really obvious when this thing goes down.
“And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. 26 People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. 28 So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!”
It’s the language of being in a boat on the water caught in a storm. You’re looking around and saying, “I don’t have anywhere I can go to escape the storm. It’s all water and it’s all storm.” Jesus is saying this storm is going to be global. It’s going to be universal. There’s no escaping because the boat that’s going through the storm is planet Earth and the signs are going to be universal. Jesus is warning people that they’re looking for these signs in secret but when they go down it’s going to be so cataclysmic that no one can possibly miss it. The problem is when this goes down it’s already too late. When this goes down everyone’s eternity is already set. It is set once and for all time.
There is the destruction of Jerusalem Jesus is talking about today and then you have these disasters that Jesus is describing for us. Then he talks about the darkening of the sun, the moon, and the stars. You can’t miss that. Everybody is going to see this one when it happens. Jesus says when that gets close hang on to your faith. When that gets close don’t throw in the towel and don’t give up because Heaven is waiting for you on the other side. Heaven is worth it. Literally the language that he is using today is look up stop looking down and being enamored by your problems and by the difficulties around you. Put your focus on Jesus and on Heaven because that’s what’s coming for you. I sometimes think Jesus is speaking to my heart in this passage. He’s saying, “Jeff, be careful that you don’t fall in love with the stuff that you see around you. Don’t fall in love with the stuff that this society and this culture offers you. Don’t let it steal your heart away because all of this stuff is going to be gone. The only thing that lasts are the things of God. Fall in love with that. Put your focus on that. Don’t focus on the stuff that’s around you. Don’t get your head down when the problems get bad. Put your head up. Stand up erect. Sit up straight in your chair and focus on Heaven because it’s totally worth the wait.
This past week I was in Colorado Springs and I tried to run Pike’s Peak but the mountain was closed because of snow and ice. One of the men that I was speaking with this week said, “Jeff, do you know about this place called The Incline? It’s in the city of Manitou, Colorado. You should go check out it out.” What he didn’t tell me ahead of time is that the incline is less than a mile in horizontal distance but more than 2000 feet of difference in elevation. It’s thousands of steps to go up to the top of the incline. The top of the incline is at almost 9000 feet of elevation. I foolishly climbed The Incline this week. About five times on the way up there I thought my heart was going to explode. The people around me were wheezing and gagging so hard that I thought they were going to have a cardiac arrest and I wouldn’t have enough breath to give them CPR. So, I’m going to have to watch them die. On the way down the steps were so steep that I was certain if I missed a step I’d keep tumbling all the way to the bottom. Why would any sick twisted man in their right mind climb The Incline? The view from the top of the incline is stunning. I’m not exaggerating. You can see hundreds of miles from the top. When I got to the top of that mountain it made the steps and the suffering getting up that mountain worthwhile.
Jesus is saying, “When it gets hard, when you’re really struggling, when you feel like you are about to the have to throw in the towel, please put your focus on me because Heaven is totally worth it. It’s worth what you’re going through and a whole lot more, if you put your focus on me.” Never give up hope. Heaven is completely worth it. When it gets hard the thing that gets you ready for the suffering and prepares you ahead of time is knowing the word of God.
V. Be ready by knowing the Bible
You get ready for what you’re about to experience by getting into the Bible and getting the Bible into you. These aren’t my words. These are Jesus’s words to prepare us for what’s waiting for us around the corner.
Then he gave them this illustration: “Notice the fig tree, or any other tree. 30 When the leaves come out, you know without being told that summer is near. 31 In the same way, when you see all these things taking place, you can know that the Kingdom of God is near. 32 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear. 34 Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, 35 like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. 36 Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.” 37 Every day Jesus went to the Temple to teach, and each evening he returned to spend the night on the Mount of Olives. 38 The crowds gathered at the Temple early each morning to hear him.
You have to get into the Bible and get the Bible into you, if you’re going to be ready for what’s waiting around the corner. Jesus says everything that you see is going to disappear. Don’t be deceived. Don’t also be caught off guard. Don’t be lulled into looking away and looking down at your problems or falling in love with what you see around you. Keep your focus where it belongs. Keep your focus on Heaven. Also, this is where it gets hard, don’t worry. When it gets really bad, don’t worry. God still has it all in the palm of his hand. God still has you in the palm of his hand. So, it’s all going to be good for those of us who know Jesus and who are called according his great Gospel.
• I want to know that I have eternal life. Today, I commit my life to Jesus for the first time.
– Pain and problems have weakened my faith. Pray for me to remain strong no matter the circumstances.
+ I want to help my friends and family be ready for the end. I will look for an opportunity to share the love of Jesus with them this week.
- Explain your thoughts on the end time. (How and when do you think that Jesus will come back again?)
- We should hope in the midst of suffering. Why does suffering have such an influence on our faith?
- Explain a time where God gave you the right words to say in a specific situation.
- Why were the disciples expected to suffer for their beliefs? (What made them a target for persecution?)
- What can you do for Christians who are suffering for our faith right now?
- Are you living like Jesus is coming back soon? (Explain)
- Pray that we would hang on to our faith in spite of suffering and a society turning away Jesus.