One of the saddest stories of Christmas is the murder of the children (Matthew 2:13-23), yet we are no different. We decry the senseless murder of innocent children at a school and the perverted treatment of little ones in child porn and then turn a blind eye to the greatest abuse of our children, abortion. Legitimate medical reasons for choosing between a child's life and its mother’s exist, but we kill innocent children mostly for convenience. We are a terribly hypocritical uncivilized peoples. We abhor rape and rightly have sympathy for our women. Yet we also punish the wrong people, the innocent children who had nothing to do with the crime, but are just as much victims as the mothers were. We decry all kinds of terrorism except our own homegrown terrorism against the innocents. When will we stop!
Jesus was a foreigner in Egypt and later in Nazareth. Under God’s law, uncircumcised foreigners did not have the privilege of citizenship like eating the Passover or being king. Citizens could not be charged interest but foreigners could. But in every other way foreigners were not to be mistreated in any way, not oppressed, must be given the same poverty relief as a native born citizen, live the the same legal standards, and the same loving care as native born Israelites. God watches for the welfare of the foreigner and other disadvantaged groups. God will bless a people that does not oppress the foreigner. In the New Testament we are told that God will speak the Gospel through foreigners, but Christians of all nations are not foreigners to each other, though foreigners to the world with their citizenship in heaven.
Christmas proclaims peace on earth, but what peace on earth? That message only tells half the story. If we examine Luke 2:14 it has some other words as well. Many translations say peace on earth with whom God is well pleased or on whom his favor rests. That peace then seems to be conditional, rather than unconditional. In fact, one of the very first things Jesus experienced after his birth was a decided lack of peace on earth. He had to flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-23). In fact Jesus contradicted the idea that he came to bring peace on earth, by stating very clearly that he did not (Matthew 10:34; Luke 12:51-52). There is a real peace to those of good will, even in the midst of trials, a peace which passes understanding (Philippians 4:7).
The wealthy flatter themselves that they have better breeding than the poor. Heaven may disagree. The announcement of Jesus’ birth was not made to the wealthy and powerful of this world, because God has different values than snobbery and selfishness. It is not because God is poor. He owns everything there is from here to the farthest reaches of outer space. But God understands true values. He announced the birth of the Christ to the lowest classes, among them unwashed and unkempt shepherds out in the field. Simeon was granted his dying wish to see the Christ child. He was a man whose only status was that he was righteous and devout. Anna had the privilege of announcing Christ. Her only status was that she worshiped and prayed night and day (Luke 2). Now that’s real breeding in heavenly style.
Labels: Luke 02
What are those funny “IHS” signs we see everywhere from communion tables to pulpits? Is it some kind of secret code for “in his service” or is it Latin, Greek or Hebrew? Some have thought that the letters stood for the Latin words “Jesus Hominum Salvator” meaning “Jesus Savior of Men” but that is not the case. Many original New Testaments were written in Greek capital letters and thus Jesus was written ΙΗΣΟΥΣ and the first three letters in English letters would be transliterated as IHS. That just happens to also be an ancient abbreviation for Jesus. What about Xmas? Is it x-ing Christ out of Christmas? In Greek Christ is Χριστός and the first letter in Greek, X is also an abbreviation for Christ. Xmas does not X Christ out of Christmas; it is an ancient abbreviation for Christmas.
Imagine you are Joseph, engaged to Mary. You are busy preparing a home to receive her. Then you discover that she is pregnant. You feel betrayed, deeply hurt. You are a righteous man who believes in faithfulness before marriage. That means that the both of you are to be virgins on your wedding night. But, you also believe in mercy because righteousness demands it. You contemplate breaking the engagement quietly, because you really love this woman and don’t want to disgrace her, nor have her punished. But you were not fully decided when you had a dream in which an angel said not to hesitate marrying Mary. Her pregnancy was of the Holy Spirit and would bring salvation. You marry her knowing you will be gossiped about, but that the child’s name would be “God saves” and “God with us”.
As we look down into the future of our planet, we see possible devastation by an asteroid and eventual certain death of the planet as our solar system collapses and life on earth becomes impossible. Science tells us that Earth is only a temporary home. So we look to a long term solution of eventually having to abandon our solar system and find another earth-like planet far, far away. In short, we see our salvation as a species in “technology with us.” Whether or not we could eventually find a far away home planet is not quite certain. However, there is another solution to our dilemma, God. The Bible also tells us that Earth is only a temporary home and that our real long-term solution is found not in “technology with us” but in “God with us” (Matthew 1:18-25).
Marriage ideally begins with a savings account, a house already built and a good job. But, many of us did not begin with any of those things. Joseph and Mary also did not begin their married life with the ideal start. They had an awkward and embarrassing pregnancy and a birth in a stable. The embarrassment was caused by knowing that many would not believe Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Even Joseph must have thought that Mary had betrayed him at first. There was also stress and anxiety and poverty. Today we would call them homeless. Yet this awkward, itinerant, not quite official couple on the edge of society was to give birth to the One who would save his people from their sins. “God with us” was born into human poverty to bring peace to the world.
Joseph had a dilemma (Matthew 1:18-25. He was betrothed to Mary but found her pregnant. A betrothal in those days was as binding as a marriage contract. The groom typically prepared a home, either as an addition to his parent’s home or a free-standing one depending on his financial ability. That could take a year. Then when all was prepared, the bridegroom would come to collect his bride. Hence the biblical pictures of Christ as the bridegroom who comes for his bride the Church. Finding Mary pregnant, Joseph had a dilemma. He was mindful to cancel the whole deal privately rather than put Mary to public disgrace and possible stoning by the more self-righteous in the community. Joseph was encouraged by an angel that this was a prophesied sign of a new age of peace and security for Israel.
Jesus (Iesous) is from Greek for Joshua (Jeshua, Jehoshua). There were two men named Joshua whose lives were forerunners of Jesus Christ. It was under Joshua the son of Nun that Israel conquered 31 cities in the land of Canaan beginning around 1400 BC. Jesus (Luke 2:15-21) was given a name which means “God saves” because he was born to save each one of us (Matthew 1:20-23). We cannot save ourselves from death, but Jesus can if we let him. Joshua leading Israel into the promised land is symbolic of Jesus leading the saved into eternal life. A lesser known Joshua in the Bible, Joshua the son of Jozadak was the first person named as high priest after Israel returned from national captivity in Babylon (Haggai 1). Jesus is our high priest who offered himself (Hebrews 8:3-5).
Jesus was so named when he was circumcised (Luke 2:15-21). It means “Jehovah [God] is salvation.” Salvation is liberation or help from God. Jesus would save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:20-23). His name would be the hope of the whole world (Matthew 12:15-21). The disciples complained about those who healed in Jesus’ name without authority, but Jesus said not to stop them. Anyone doing a miracle in his powerful name is on our side (Mark 9:38-40). The Catholic Society of the Holy Name is a fraternity that prays for those who blaspheme the name Jesus. In Greek Jesus’ name is Ἰησοῦς [capitalized ΙΗΣΟΥΣ] pronounced yay-soos. The first three letters capitalized in Greek were a common abbreviation for Jesus ΙΗΣ. In our English alphabet, those letters are written IHS, letters used to decorate churches everywhere.
(References: http://www.biblestudytools.com | http://www.newadvent.org/cathen | http://christogenea.org)
Jesus (Luke 2:15-21) was so named because he would save people from sin (Matthew 1:18-25). Wrongdoing has consequences both now and forever. Having false gods causes us to rely on things that cannot rescue us from calamity. Idolatry causes people to look in the wrong direction for help. Misusing the name of the Lord causes us to take the only one who can help lightly. Not taking a day of rest causes stress and early death. Dishonoring our parents causes broken families, poverty and crime. Murder destroys families and neighborhoods. Adultery breaks marriages and families, and spreads distrust and disease. Theft takes away the peace and security of our neighborhoods. Bearing false witness fills the land with false advertising and distrust. Coveting causes crime and war. Only Jesus can rescue us from the consequences of our bad decisions.
The study of Jesus is central to Christianity. Christology studies Christ, his birth as "God with us" (Matthew 1:18-25), his resurrection, salvation in him and his two natures. Theologians see Jesus as both divine and human. Controversies over who Jesus was are not just modern news, but raged in the early centuries too. The Council of Chalcedon took place in 451 AD. It was the 4th Ecumenical Council and the last one that is widely recognized by Protestants. Its contributions to the Christian Church are perhaps the greatest consensus of opinions on Christology from church history. These are summarized in the 3rd great creed, the Chalcedonian Creed. In regard to Christ and Christology, the Chalcedonian Creed affirms the Trinity, Christ's virgin birth, his humanity and his deity, and the hypostatic union of his two natures in one person.
Experts give two opinions on Matthew 11:12 and perhaps they are both right. Perhaps Jesus actually intended for us to take a double meaning from this. One meaning is that in light of John the Baptist’s imprisonment and pending death, it is obvious that the kingdom of God suffers violence and violent people have been trying to take it by force. Yet, God is in charge and there is no stronger power than his. The other meaning is that the Greek word translated as violent can also be translated as zeal or aggressive force and that such ardent zeal is needed for Christians to enter God’s kingdom. The innuendos of taking both possible meanings are obvious and the lessons are important. Christianity is not always an easy path. It is a spiritual battle against evil attitudes and wicked ways.
A Xmas tree, like all trees is good (Genesis 1:11-12), picturing the tree of life (Genesis 2:9) with 12 fruits (Revelation 22:2), picturing peace (1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:1-4) and righteous people flourishing (Psalm 1:1-3; 92:12). Wisdom is a tree of life (Proverbs 3:13-18), the fruit of right living (Proverbs 11:30). Longing fulfilled (Proverbs 13:12) and a soothing tongue are like the tree of life (Proverbs 15:4). Don’t idolize trees (Jeremiah 10:2-5). They picture the kingdom of God (Luke 13:18-19) and faith (Luke 17:6). Jesus hung on a tree (Galatians 3:13) so that we may eat of the tree of life in paradise (Revelation 2:7). Let us wash our robes so that we may have right to that tree of life (Revelation 22:14-15).
Labels: Luke 13
Christmas has so many pagan connections that puritanical Christians avoid it altogether, citing God’s opposition to pagan worship when he really only banned things like child sacrifice and temple prostitution (Deuteronomy 12:29-31, 23:17). Rather than avoid it, early Christians sought to conquer it and capture the time for Christ. Just as early Christians converted pagan temples into churches, so too did they convert the many symbols of winter observances into Christian ones. Today, Christmas is again becoming a pagan festival. It seems to be about the commercial pursuit of profit, the giving and receiving of gifts, the office parties, the stampedes for merchandise and the pressure to spend beyond our means. In the midst of the chaos, perhaps even like a voice of one crying in the wilderness (Matthew 11:3) let us rescue Christmas all over again.
We hear a lot about Jesus. Some of it comes directly from one of the four Gospels. Some of it comes from people’s imaginations. John the Baptist had an image of Jesus in his mind, but Jesus was different than he expected. Jesus encouraged John’s disciples to tell him what they saw and heard (Matthew 11:4). What do we see and hear of Jesus? Do we see a little baby in a manger? Do we see a long haired hippie? Do we see the tooth fairy who will grant our wishes? Do we see someone who heals lives and proclaims good news to the poor? Instead of living a fiction of a Jesus invented according to what we wish him to be, let us get to know the real Jesus and be grateful that he is who he is.
John the Baptist asked if Jesus was the One (Matthew 11:3). He seemed perhaps a little disappointed in the way Jesus conducted his ministry. John was more of an activist and revolutionary and Jesus was more of a healer and teacher. Did John jump into the political fray with Herod because he was frustrated that Jesus did not? Did John expect the Messiah to rally troops together to storm the gates of palaces and take over as did past Jewish revolutionaries? Jesus seemed to hint that John was offended at him. We read nowhere that Jesus invited John to be a disciple. John prepared the way but seemed to be looking for a different Messiah. Are we disappointed with Jesus, the life of poverty, the hair, the dying on a cross or are we people of faith in Christ?
Some people tell us that Sunday is the Sabbath, but there is no scripture commanding this anywhere. Those scriptures that are used are at best open to several interpretations. Even the words "Lord's Day" have two possible meanings. So what about the Old Testament Sabbath? Some groups try to shove that down our throats, claiming the Ten Commandments as their proof. The only problem with all of that is that the Old Testament law is now of the spirit and not the flesh. Circumcision is an example. Is there any command for a physical day of rest in the New Testament? No. Nowhere. Is it a good principle to rest on one day a week? Yes. The only New Testament imperative regarding rest is found in Matthew 11:28 where Christ says to come to him for rest. For Christians, rest is not in a mandatory day but in a person.
When John the Baptist heard of Jesus’ message, he was curious. He sent messengers to ask, “Are you the one...” (Matthew 11:2-15). John was to prepare the way for the Messiah. Yet Jesus was different than expected. Unlike John, he did not take on a Nazirite vow or the ascetic lifestyle of some of the prophets. He did not eat locusts or avoid wine. Jesus did not separate himself like a monk, but ate and drank with sinners. He was also not like some of the kings and judges of ancient Israel. He was not a warrior who came to fight and retake the land from occupying Roman armies. Instead, he came as a pacifist, who turned the other cheek. He healed and preached good news to the poor. Blessed are those who are not offended by this Jesus.
John the Baptist sent messengers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one...” (Matthew 11:2-15). Like John are we are also disappointed at Jesus that he did not come as we think he ought? He taught nothing about tongues speaking, no Sabbath requirement, no prayers to Mary, no rosaries, no succession of popes or bishops, no Christmas rush, and made no specific liturgical demands. He did heal and preach good news to the poor. Yet, his preaching was not about worldliness, nor receiving material blessings for our giving. His preaching was about giving and self-sacrifice. It was about a kingdom not of this world, which cannot be described in the sometimes abusive, authoritarian, oppressive terms of this world’s religions. Do we paint Jesus in our terms or his? Like John, do we ask if he is still the One?
When John the Baptist sent messengers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one...” (Matthew 11:2-15), he did not ask whether Jesus was one of the ones, but the one. Our world looks to so many ones for the answers. We look to politicians to be the one. We are disappointed every single time we elect another one, and soon a movement begins to get rid of that one and install another one. We look to fashion gurus, financial whiz kids, motivational speakers, new gadgets and ideas. Flip through the TV channels any night and see the would be Messiahs. There is the guy selling salvation in real estate millions, the fellow selling salvation from old vacuum cleaners, the people selling salvation in jewelry, and the vitamin Messiahs. There is only one real savior and his name is Jesus.
John the Baptist was not a follower of Jesus, but a forerunner. The shocking statement that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (Matthew 11:2-15), seems to indicate that John had not yet become a part of that kingdom. He seemed disappointed with Jesus, even though his mission was to prepare the way for him. What about us? Are we disappointed with Jesus? Is that why we latch onto things that neither Jesus nor his Apostles demanded of the Church? Is that why we attach ourselves to traditions and fads that focus on things that Jesus did not think were important enough to mention? The reality of Jesus is what unites all Christians. Is not what divides us the Jesus of our own making, because like John, we are disappointed with the Jesus that is?
If we look at John’s questioning of Jesus in Matthew 11:2-15, it seems as if he was asking for confirmation that Jesus was the Messiah. He was not sure what a Messiah looked like. Do we know what a Messiah looks like? What would we expect to hear and see? Would we anticipate that he would come with political power, worldly wealth, or military might. Would he be dressed in simple clothes like a prophet or in the opulent robes of a king? Jesus’ answer to those who asked on John’s behalf was none of those things. He said that the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them. This is what the Messiah looks like. He is the one.
Are churches offended by the simplicity of Christ’s teachings? Is that the reason we create so many human traditions? As new Christians we often swallow all kinds of human ideas. As we grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord, are we willing to discard misconceptions? When we find out that many beliefs of mere mortals are misguided, do we become offended at Jesus for allowing it? When talking to the followers of John the Baptist, Jesus reminded them of the signs predicted in the Old Testament proving who the Messiah was: healing and miracles. And then he said something seemingly strange: blessed are those who are not offended because of Christ (Matthew 11:1-15). In John the Baptist's case, things turned out differently than he expected. Will we be offended if while following Jesus our assumptions are contradicted?
John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-12) and Jesus (Matthew 4:17) called for repentance. How can we repent if we do not first understand our sins? How have we placed pride and materialism before God? How have we worshiped man-made images? How have we taken God’s name in vain? How have we worked demanding our employees work without rest? How have we dishonored our parents and previous generations? How have we killed the innocent by killing our babies and withholding help from the needy? How many people’s marriages have we ruined by stealing their sexual innocence and marital happiness? How much have we stolen in unjust wages and putting in a full day’s labor? How much have we lied to sell overpriced and inferior products? How have we enticed others to covet and go into debt just to sell things?
“Come, just as you are to worship” goes a popular song. Yet, songs are not always written by well-versed theologians and sometimes weaken the message of the Gospel? Jesus did not go about preaching worship to new people, but some other rather more pointed things. Worship also means appreciating God's worth-ship in every area of life and not just singing songs. Worship is what mature Christians are learning to do. It is important not to ignore the way that Jesus or John the Baptist preached. John the baptist prepared for the ministry of Jesus by calling for repentance (Matthew 3:1-12). Likewise Jesus did not preach worship to the public but “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). Worship certainly begins with repentance. However, perhaps we could learn from how Jesus preached publicly calling for repentance.
In Matthew 3:1-12 the writer introduces us to John the baptizer, a wilderness preacher dressed in the clothing of poor country folks, challenging the establishment with a new approach to sin. In the Hebrew scriptures, a sin offering was to be made at the temple. John’s approach was most likely seen by the religious leaders as being in direct rebellion to that. However, as a herald of the new covenant which was to be made in the Messiah’s blood, John emphasized an oft overlooked ingredient, repentance, a change of heart. After confession of sin, John did not encourage the repentant to make a sin offering as in Leviticus 5, but to be baptized in water. John’s baptism of repentance paved the way for a new high priest who would also baptize people but in a far more powerful way.
When John called for repentance in Matthew 3:1-12 his proclamation signalled that something was wrong. Is such a message relevant for today? Is there something wrong with our modern world? Repentance is a change of heart about our life’s direction. Is our world in need of a change of direction? John’s message is an announcement of hope for a new beginning and a new world. The change of heart that John called for was to be accompanied by fruits. Thinking about the need for change is only a beginning. Something must also be done to create change. Only the most deluded of us would imagine that there is no need for change. The unasked question is: What must change? The answer is: our hearts. The root cause of all our planet’s ills is spiritual and so is the solution.
Bishops wear a mitre hat picturing tongues of fire resting on each of the faithful (Acts 2). Yet many churches which speak of this as the baptism of fire predicted by John in Matthew 3:1-12 do not recognize a water baptism that only places water on the head. What a contradiction! How then is the coming of the Holy Spirit also a baptism of fire? The Baptist argument is that only immersion is a proper baptism. However, if we accept that the children of Israel were baptized into Moses in a non-literal sense because they walked through dry shod, then the door is open for other modes of baptism. Baptism with fire also has a double meaning. The unrepentant who choose hell over heaven will also be thrown into a lake of fire, a mode even Baptists might approve.
In national assemblies of this world there is often a herald who announces important dignitaries. He is usually dressed in elaborate clothing. In Matthew 3:1-12 we are introduced to the most important newscaster to have ever lived. His job was to be herald of the most important announcement of all history. One could have thought that this announcement would be made in the leading assemblies of the most important cities of the time. Instead it was made in the wilderness at the edge of Roman imperial control. This last of the Old Testament prophets was dressed in the simple clothing of poor farming folk reminiscent of the prophet Elijah. He preached in a place of historic significance to Israel. Israel crossed the Jordan to become God’s people in this wilderness. It was a fitting place to announce a revival.
In Matthew 3:1-12 we read of John the baptizer’s announcement about the impending ministry of Jesus Christ. Yet, unlike former prophets, his announcement of repentance had a greater sense of urgency in that the “kingdom of heaven is near.” We moderns tend just to refer to “the kingdom” yet that is not how the apostles spoke. Whereas we tend to omit God or heaven from the phrase, the original language emphasized God or heaven. It was an announcement of the sovereignty of heaven or the kingship of God. In military terms, God was establishing a beachhead from which he would eventually take over. God’s kingdom is God’s rule. He rules in the lives of those who accept him. The words “the kingdom of heaven has come near” is the modern equivalent of saying that God is now taking control.1
1 The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary of the New Testament, R. T. France, 2007, Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, p. 102
Sometimes we may think, “Repent? Sure, I did that before I was converted.” So, is repentance then just a one time thing? In Matthew 3:1-12 when John the Baptist began preparing the way for the ministry of Jesus, he did not use the word in a one time sense. The word repent is an ongoing command. After all, Christians will make many mistakes during life’s journey. If we think we’ve arrived, we can become arrogant and self-righteous. Conversion is merely the beginning of a process of change. Our journey usually begins with small changes. If we never come to the point of realizing how immature those initial ideas were, we may have stopped repenting. The idea that we do not have perfect knowledge and the humility to learn new perspectives are indicative of ongoing repentance.
John the Baptist had preached that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, clean house and burn the chaff with fire (Matthew 3:11-12). Then a different side of Jesus shocked John and he was disappointed (Matthew 11:2-15). Was Jesus all sizzle and no steak? Was this just another empty promise? Was Jesus just like so many who promise more than they can deliver? Was Jesus just like so many who stir your emotions with great ideas, but in the end leave you empty? Even the disciples were disappointed that Jesus came to die for the world rather than conquer the world. Perhaps the real steak is not in a king like this world’s, but one who rules in the hearts of men and produces a fire that creates permanent change in us from the inside out.
Part of John the Baptist’s questioning if Jesus was the one (Matthew 11:2-15) may have been that he had predicted a more powerful one (Matthew 3:11-12). Some Christians may also be disappointed that we celebrate the birth of a baby on Christ’s first advent, rather than only focus on the power of his second advent. Yet God with us, Immanuel, was born among us as a helpless babe. Why? We human beings tend to focus on a different kind of power. We want dramatic miracles like the red sea crossing. We want power that we can see. Yet, like the still, small voice that Elijah experienced, the real power of God is not in things seen. It is in the potency of good news that Jesus brought. Perhaps if we hear that message we may find unimaginable power.
The word "preach" originally meant to “announce” the message of the kingdom of God? John the Baptist preached that the kingdom was near (Matthew 3:1-2). Jesus preached that same message (Matthew 4:17). Jesus instructed his disciples to preach it as well. Today, we associate preaching with what is taught at church, not what is announced to unbelievers. Both preaching and teaching are VERY important to the life of the church. Preaching was originally a public announcement to unbelievers including a message of repentance and turning to God (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). Teaching was supposed to be what happened inside of church time, instructing believers to obey what Jesus had commanded. The most important thing that we need to learn is what Jesus commanded. After all, that's what he instructed his disciples to teach (Matthew 28:19-20).
|The Baptism of|
Jesus the Christ
Bishops wear a miter hat remembering the tongues of fire resting on people’s heads at Pentecost (Acts 2). Some church fathers and John of Damascus described this as the baptism of fire predicted by John the Baptist in Matthew 3:1-12. That is why some churches also recognize a baptism of water on the head. If we accept that the children of Israel were baptized into Moses in a non-literal sense because they walked through dry shod, then the door is open for the word baptism to also have a non-literal meaning. Other baptisms with fire are perhaps an immersion experience. Early Christians suffered great persecution, which we call a trial by fire or baptism of fire. Also the unrepentant who choose hell over heaven will sadly be cast into a lake of fire possibly resulting in their total immersion.
As in all things that divide Christians, the words social gospel are unfortunately misunderstood. The phrase is not a quote from scripture. However, the concept of a social responsibility towards others is there. One example is that of the selfish rich man in Luke 16:19-31 who was hard-hearted towards poor Lazarus. Another question that Protestants have is whether this passage requires works for salvation. I believe that Protestants and Catholics actually agree on works. The biggest difference is that Protestants see good works resulting from saving faith. Catholics see saving faith evidenced by good works. It’s like splitting hairs, if you ask me. The bottom line is that a social responsibility towards others is clearly evident among those who believe. John told the Pharisees to show fruit of a changed heart. One such fruit is how we treat others.
So many people today want words of comfort and they certainly have their place. But some of Christianity’s biggest churches have been built on comfort over truth. At times we need to be discomforted by the truth. John the Baptist was such a preacher. He did not start out with words like, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…” Rather, he started out with the same thing that Jesus also began with, a call to repent [have a change heart] for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 3:1-12). He was even starker with certain religious leaders who came on the scene, calling them a brood of snakes and warning them to produce outward fruit to prove an inward change of heart. In a selfish world perhaps what we all need now is a confrontation with the truth.
A former Bible college acquaintance of mine recently went off the rails. He predicted that the end would begin on a specific month one year, and if it did not occur, he would declare himself a false prophet. As we have seen before in Christian history, the predicted date came and went, and instead of stepping down and declaring himself a false prophet, the gentleman came up with a brilliant excuse as to why his prophecies failed. When is the end of the world? In Matthew 24, Jesus' disciples asked him about it. What did he say? He predicted two things, the fall of Jerusalem which occurred in 70AD and that the end was not yet. The apostles wanted to know what was the sign of his coming and of the end of the age. Most of the sermon in Matthew 24 detailed the devastating events soon to follow, the end of an era for the Jews. The only specifics about when the end of the world would come were that the Gospel would be preached in the whole world and that no one knows the day or the hour of his return. So let's ignore the false prophets who say that Jesus will come this year or next. Instead, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. That's what Jesus said.
The popular “left behind” theory suggests that people left behind are somehow those who are sinful and rebellious against God. They will not escape but are left behind, while the righteous are whisked away, so the idea goes. It is a teaching from dispensational theology. Yet Matthew 24:36-44 suggests the exact opposite to this viewpoint. The analogy in the Olivet Discourse compares those taken away with those who were swept away in Noah’s flood. In that case, those who were condemned were taken away and only the righteous were left behind. Rather than the righteous escaping by being taken away, the natural reading of this passage is the exact opposite of the “left behind” theories. The problem with prophetic theories is that they are inadequate. God gives enough clues to encourage hope, but leaves enough out to stimulate faith.
Many claim to have the keys to prophecy, but are eventually proven wrong. Others bury their heads in the sand. Is there a balanced approach? How ought we to view the second coming of Jesus Christ? In every generation for the past 2,000 years, people have predicted that Jesus would return in their lifetimes and others have scoffed. Their prophecies all failed, giving more ammunition for those who love to ridicule. Naive Christians willingly follow dogmatically wild and speculative interpretations of prophecies and doubters willingly sneer. However, neither extreme is how prophecies are written. The Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24:36-44 is a case in point. Here is a warning about being too specific with predictions such as the day of his return. The opposite is also true as Jesus warned about being lackadaisical by not keeping prayerful watch.
Matthew 24:36-44 is part of the Olivet discourse or Olivet prophecy. It is also called the little apocalypse because it is reminiscent of the book of Revelation. Apocalyptic writings are a symbolic genre, a point that literal interpretations often overlook. One of the mandates in the passage is to watch. What could that mean? A night watchman was a common task in cities, farms and villages. However, the task of a watchman was vigilance and that is the sense of the wording here. Similar wording is also used a little later in Matthew 26:41 where we are encouraged to watch and pray that we do not give into temptation. In the context of the prophecy, Jesus encouraged disciples to be ready at all times, because he is coming at an hour when we do not think he will.
In contrast to the usual apocalyptic visions, Matthew 24:36-44 includes some pictures of apparent normality before the second coming. There is nothing to suggest that eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage are more evil. People will be carrying on normal business on farms and in flour mills. It appears more likely that they either don’t notice or are ignoring the events around them and carrying on with business as usual. It is in such an outward sense of normalcy that believers are encouraged to keep watch. Routine can distract us and delude us into thinking that we don’t need to keep vigilant watch in prayerful preparation for his return. It appears then that in such apocalyptic times there may also be periods of normalcy. It is perhaps during those times that watching will be even more imperative.
A part of the Olivet Discourse Matthew 24:36-44 is not only about calamitous events around the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, but also hints at similar events before the second coming. An interesting aspect of the prophecy is a list of things that we do not know. This is important because in order to be sure of what we do know, it is also vital to clearly understand what we don’t know or cannot know. When this was written nobody knew the day or hour. There is nothing to suggest that has changed because the story proposes that knowledge of end times will be just as knowledge of when Noah’s flood came. Nobody knew when that would happen either. We also read again that the audience would not know the day and that Jesus would come when unexpected.
|Revelation Four Views|
How is Jesus like a burglar? In Matthew 24:36-44 Jesus’ second coming is compared to that of a thief in he night. In a day when most villages did not have a police force, security was left to individual home owners. Neighbors would often combine forces and work out rosters for night watch. Jesus is like a burglar in only one way, his coming will be unexpected. The only way to deal with the threat of those who break into homes in the night is by being prepared and keeping watch. Before Jesus’ return, most people will be going about their daily business uninterested in the things of God and unaware of the approach of his coming. We are challenged to stay alert. We are challenged to to be vigilant. We are challenged to be prepared for Jesus’ coming.
Two similar instructions are given in Matthew 24:36-44, watch and be ready. But watch what? At Jesus’ birth we read that shepherds watched their flocks by night, obviously to protect them from predators. What was Jesus’ focus when he said to watch? A watch is set when we want to protect our things from theft or our country from an enemy. We don’t know when they may be coming so we watch. In Revelation 16:15 the analogy is carried further as Jesus warns us to remain clothed. Another way of saying this is found in Mark 14:38. We are to watch and pray that we do not fall into temptation. Unlike the five foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) a good watch is someone who is always at the ready, always on guard lest the enemy tempt them.
In the midst of commercial chaos and pressure to buy things is a very important reminder for Christians: be ready. The Advent season is a time to be ready for the celebration of Christ’s first coming. The custom of the Advent wreath is a reminder to be ready. Four Sundays leading up to Christmas candles remind us of stories surrounding the first coming of our Savior. Some popular choices are four red or purple or blue candles surrounding a white one. One of the four may be pink picturing joy or Mary. The first Sunday a candle is lit to remind us of important events. Then a second candle the next Sunday and so on until finally on Christmas Day the central Christ candle is lit. Preparation also reminds us to be ready for his second coming (Matthew 24:36-44).
Nicholas, was born around 280 AD on the Mediterranean coast of what is now the Turkish Riviera. The only son of wealthy Greek Christians, Nicholas gave his inheritance away to the poor. As bishop of Myra, he suffered persecution under Diocletian. He was tortured and imprisoned. Emperor Constantine had the persecuted Christians released. One legend tells of a poor man who Nicholas gave three bags of gold as a dowry for his daughters, so they did not have to become prostitutes. Nicholas was possibly part of the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD where he contributed to the Nicene Creed and condemned Arianism. Nicholas saved three innocent men from execution and reproved the governor for taking bribes to convict them. He became known for his secret gift-giving. The name Santa Claus is a corruption of the Dutch for Saint Nicholas.
Why not tell our kids about the REAL Santa this year? Saint Nicholas was Bishop of Myra in ancient Turkey. He was well known for his generous giving of gifts. One famous story speaks of his giving dowries to a poor man, so that his daughters could get married rather than turn to prostitution in order to survive. Often he would travel to distant villages on a donkey to give gifts. He did not have elves, but he did apparently save an Ethiopian boy name Piter from slavery, who was so grateful that he hung around as Nicholas' assistant. Rather than condone paganism, Nicholas is said to have destroyed several pagan temples. The REAL story of Santa is about giving. Maybe we could teach our children what Acts 20:35 says, that it is more blessed to give than receive.
Who is the most popular Christian outside of the Bible? We may think of many famous names but the answer is Nicholas of Myra, who was loved by many in his time and those know his story today. The fiction surrounding him has grown to the point that he is the second most prominent Christmas character after Jesus. Why is he so popular? Though he was very wealthy, he spent his life giving it away touching the lives of thousands. He saved many from financial ruin, helped out in disasters, defended people in court from false charges, provided food during famines, saved children from slavery, travelers from murder and prayed and saved sailors from shipwreck. The real Saint Nicholas is loved because he watched and waited for the Lord rather than what this world had to offer (Matthew 24:36-44).
When ancient Israel rejected God as their king they wanted a human king just like the nations around them. 1 Samuel 8:10-17 describes the manner of a human king. That relates to any human national leaders no matter their title. The first three words are very descriptive, “He will take.” Taking, rather than giving is a hallmark of human governments. “He will take your sons and MAKE them serve… they will plow HIS ground and reap HIS harvest… He will TAKE your daughters… the best of YOUR fields… take for HIS own use… and you yourselves will become his slaves.”* Taxation without forgiveness and taking, rather than giving are hallmarks of human government. In Luke 23:33-43 we read of hallmarks of Christs government, giving and forgiving, as he gave his life for the whole world and forgave sins.* Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
We could say that Jesus was born to die. That is true, but he was also born to forgive when for most of us it would have been incomprehensible. Forgiveness for murder is perhaps one of the hardest things imaginable. One of the most remarkable sayings of Jesus is recorded in Luke 23:33-43. “Father forgive them. For, they don’t know what they are doing.” It takes a strong person to apologize and ask forgiveness. Weak people don’t apologize. Many of us will forgive others — after they apologize. Weak people may never forgive even with an apology. Some Christians believe that forgiveness can only be granted by God after repentance. However, here Jesus teaches us a new level of forgiveness, before repentance, before a change of heart, forgiveness because of a deed done in ignorance. What a strange idea!
As a class of human beings, kings generally suck. At least that has been their history. As a rule most were selfish, murderous, tyrannical and didn't care about the people of their nation. That is a major reason why modern democracies have either ditched their kings or severely limited their power. Why in the world then is Jesus referred to as a king? Not all kings suck. Some few have made great personal and financial sacrifice and even given their lives on the battlefield for their people. It is that order of king, the rare kind that Jesus represents. Kings who willingly place themselves in harm’s way are highly honored and deeply loved. As such a king, Jesus sacrificed himself for us. As our king (Luke 23:33-43) Jesus ignored the suggestion to save himself. He came to save us.
Democracy has long replaced monarchy as a form of human government. Abuse of power among kings was intolerable. We no longer believe that kings have a “divine right.” Vestiges of monarchical excesses remain. Prince Charles still owns 131,000 acres in Wales. However, even our democracies have not stopped the abuse of power, merely brought it under a measure of control. What if there was a king who did not need to be elected because his kingdom rule was one without the corruption of human governments? What if there was a leader we knew would never cause us any harm? Would we choose to voluntarily submit to such a kingdom? Would we ask that king to remember us when he came into his kingdom? Would we take a criminal’s request (Luke 23:33-43) before his execution as a worthwhile recommendation?
Saviors are everywhere. At least many claim to save us. Politicians will save us from the government. Advertisers will save us from illnesses and bad breath. Drink manufactures will save us from pure but boring water. Fashion merchants will save us from comfortable clothes. Credit card companies will save us from being debt free. Central banks will save our economies. Hollywood will save us from innocence. Who will save us from our saviors? When all the results are in and we look back on the claims, we will probably find that more often than not, those saviors hurt more than they helped. Even Jesus’ enemies testified that he “saved others” (Luke 23:33-43). He healed many and saved them from not only from their illnesses but also promised something no one else can do, save us from sin and death.
We may have heard stories about Nazi victims who found it difficult to forgive former persecutors after they asked for it. Some have. Now that’s world class forgiveness. It is the best kind of forgiveness available in this world. There is a kind of forgiveness that is even beyond world class. We could call it heavenly forgiveness. It is recorded in Luke 23:33-43. Jesus said, “Father forgive them. For, they don’t know what they are doing.” It is difficult for most of us to forgive atrocities on the order of that which the Nazis committed. Crucifixion was no less an atrocity than those extermination camps. Yet, Jesus forgave, even before he was asked to. World class forgiveness is difficult. Jesus prayed for heavenly forgiveness for terrible deeds done in ignorance. Thank God for forgiveness! All humanity surely needs it!
Human leadership easily disappoints. Many Christians constantly criticize and condemn political and church leaders. But that overlooks grace. Matthew 26:14-27:66 highlights two common leadership faults: weakness and hypocrisy. It’s our human condition. The Judean leadership was a group of Jews who deeply feared Roman occupation forces 2,000 years ago. They were so frightened of their own people rioting and angering the Romans that some of them used false charges, coercion and violence to avert it, crucifying Jesus. Every single one of Jesus’ disciples also abandoned him. At the cross, all human leadership in or out of the faith failed. When we are tempted to criticize political or church leaders today, maybe we ought to remember Jesus’ words about both while he hung on the cross: Father forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing (Luke 23:34).
Jesus conquered the gates of hell at his crucifixion and resurrection. He ushered in a new government. Although the fullness of that kingdom will not be ushered in until his return we can live under that government now. How? Luke 23:33-43 indicates some very important ways in which we can be ambassadors for the government of Christ now. He forgave those who planned his death. He willingly offered himself as a sacrifice for all. He allowed a criminal to enter paradise on his attitude alone. We represent that eternal government whenever we forgive and sacrifice for others. Jesus’ forgiveness of his persecutors was before any change of heart or repentance. Jesus’ example was a total self-sacrifice. Jesus’ inclusion was of a sinner who had a change of heart but before he could prove his repentance with a changed life.
It’s not that democracy is really that much better than other forms of human government. It’s just that it sucks less. All forms of human government ultimately fail, some just more miserably than others. An early despot was Nimrod who gathered people into cities so as to have more power over them. Egypt was run like a company town. The country was a plantation and the company bosses were just like many company bosses today, building huge monuments to themselves and much like communism, the government owned almost everything. Like Israel’s kings most European Monarchs, though claiming religion were nothing but selfish leaders. Democracy emerged in Greece as government by the people, but all our checks and balances eventually fail as the rich and powerful take over. Only one government offers hope for humanity, that of Christ (Luke 23:33-43).
The Gospel message in Luke 23:33-43 is as relevant to North Koreans murdered by their government for having a Bible as it is for retail workers mistreated and underpaid by society’s most privileged families. The greedy and powerful can crush the life out of you but they cannot crush the hope for a better world. As Jesus followers attended his crucifixion, all over the world today people have gone to a church service somewhere in hope of a better world. They may be oppressed Christians in countries where their faith is banned. They may have had their homes burned, been kidnapped, imprisoned or be about to lose their lives, but they have a hope. They may be western Christians failed by false political promises of liberty and equality for all. Nothing is the hope of the world but Christ.
We have all experienced the overconfidence of youth. We think that we can do so much better than our forebears or we think that we could do so much better than those currently in government. The only problem is that every generation starts out life exactly the same way, thinking that they can create a better world and live life better than others. By the time we reach middle age, that overconfidence is somewhat mellowed as we are forced to admit our many failures. By the time we are old, we are compelled to face the realities of life and death. Our generation has also not solved the world’s problems. We don’t have to worry about our imperfect lives in an imperfect world. We just need to pray, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:33-43).
All human governments are represented by those that crucified Christ, not just the Roman and Jewish states. In Luke 23:33-43 are telling contrasts between Christ’s and human reign. Human governments are usually filled with very intelligent and highly educated people, but as Jesus and a man I once knew said who had lived among world leaders said, “they do not know what they are doing.” Another telling difference is that rather than being there as real servants like Christ, our so-called public servants, from political and military leaders even to criminals in reality deride the suffering saying in so many words, “let him save himself,” and “save yourself.” Is it no wonder that human governments are symbolically pictured in apocalyptic literature of the Bible as devouring beasts. In reality are we not all just the same, selfish and ignorant.
Government is a bad word to many people, but Jesus came as the head of a government that would genuinely be for everyone’s good not just the rich and powerful. Some key differences are outlined in Luke 23:33-43. They are some of the first acts of government and set the precedent as to how that government will operate. One of Jesus’ first acts as head of God’s government was to forgive the wrongs of everyone involved in plotting and preparing for his murder. Another act was his unwillingness to save himself from self-sacrifice for everyone else. Where are today’s world leaders who are willing to sacrifice themselves? The head of God’s government’s third act in this section was also one of forgiveness of one certain criminal based entirely upon his attitude. Forgiveness and sacrifice — hallmarks of Christ’s government.
The Arch of Titus in Rome features the sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Jesus predicted it in Luke 21:1-19. Spoils stolen from the Temple are pictured on the south panel of the arch like the menorah, golden trumpets and table of shew-bread. The Temple was built around 19 BC. It’s outer walls were not completed until a few years before their destruction by Rome. Herod constructed temples to pagan gods as well as Jerusalem. The widow’s mite also paid paid the upkeep of this temple. The temple was so magnificent that it could easily surpass many of today’s most magnificent churches. Though magnificent God had it destroyed because it was not a successful building. It had become an idol. Successful churches are those not those with the most magnificent buildings but those that preach Christ and change lives.
There is an old saying about success that he who dies with the most toys wins. It is a rather revealing commentary on shallow materialistic goals. Some wealthy people seem to try and gain accolades by public displays of philanthropy. Is such a life the most successful? It is certainly a better example than the alternative. A life of stinginess and accumulation can be partaken of by every social class and it is a mean and empty life. On the scale of success through generosity, there is one example that stands out above the rest, and it is not the person who gives the most in monetary value. There is a person, who is often completely unknown, who is the greatest. It is not the amount given away that gauges financial success, but the percentage. That's what the story found in Luke 21:1-19 of the widow's mite is all about.
Our society is afraid of many things and fear is big business. Fear sells merchandise from pharmaceutical drugs to newspapers, from insurance to airport security systems. It buys votes for political candidates. It is profitable for politicians and businesses to lead us into fear. This encourages a relationship of dependency for profit. At the same time there are many real reasons to fear. Despite the profit motive which encourages fear, things to be feared are not all imaginary or exaggerated. In Luke 21:1-19 Jesus informed believers several times about the reality of fearful times, but encouraged them not to be afraid. Can we be fearless in fearful times? Every aspect of our lives, even the hairs on our heads, are under God’s control. It takes faith to stand firm until the end and in so doing win eternal life.
Everybody hates to close a church building down. It’s seems like giving up ground in the church’s spiritual battle. It is also one of the most difficult jobs in church life. My Greek professor at graduate school loved it. He saw it as a necessary part of keeping church life healthy. We become so attached to real estate that we begin to believe that the church is buildings instead of people. So it was with ancient Israel. In Luke 21:1-19 Jesus predicted that the temple at Jerusalem, which had lasted over 500 years, would be destroyed. God is sometimes in the business of closing down buildings. Jesus’ prediction came right after he had praised a widow for her very generous contribution to the temple fund, the proverbial widow’s mite. Church buildings are not the "forever" part of church life.
People have predicted that the time is near every century for the past 2,000 years. Yet a major thing about that kind of prediction is frequently neglected: the warning that Jesus made not to follow people who make such predictions. That’s right! If you don’t believe me, just take a look at Jesus’ own words in Luke 21:1-19. He said that many would come predicting that the time is near. Then he said something very shocking, Don’t follow them. Wow! Have you ever noticed that? False prophets are a dime a dozen. Yet, not only are the day and hour unknown, but also the nearness of Christ’s return. When we believe that we are certain of the nearness of Christ’s return, we become lazy. Yet, real Christianity involves keeping on keeping on even in the midst of uncertainty.
The fiction of the prosperity gospel attracts many suckers, but it is not real Christianity. It is the snake oil salesman’s version of the real thing. It is a counterfeit which enriches the false preachers who gladly ask for your so called “seed money.” One place to see the reality of a Christian life is in Luke 21:1-19, where Jesus predicted many hardships which would follow true believers. Does that mean that God never provides material blessings to the obedient? Of course he does. The problem with prosperity preaching is that many teach that if you suffer, you must have been disobedient. That is the exact opposite of what Jesus taught and the early church experienced. Suffering comes to Christians precisely because they are obedient. Jesus encouraged us to stand firm and inherit something greater than materialism, eternal life.
Many Christians are intimidated by mega-churches and their larger than life leaders. It is as if we believe that quantity is far more important than quality. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes the majesty of a large church service is awe-inspiring. Yet the intimacy and healing embrace of a small church is unsurpassed. However, size does not guarantee spiritual depth. Sometimes the preaching in a large church is hollow and trite, while the preaching in a small country church can be rich and deep. The opposite can also be true. In Luke 21:1-19 Jesus did not promise large churches would be the norm or even a sign of success. Some few times local churches were large anciently. More often, they were small and scattered during very difficult times. Size is not mentioned as a sign of success; standing firm is.
What if Jesus were to present us with two church choices? On the one hand, we could meet in a large and beautiful building with community respect and international acclaim. It would contain gold and magnificently dressed priests. On the other hand, there would be no gold and church leaders may be dressed very ordinarily. We could be scattered without a building, endure suffering and be despised. Most of us would readily prefer the former. What if the choice came with a caveat, that if we chose the latter and stood firm, we could have eternal life? That is similar to what Jesus predicted in Luke 21:1-19. Buildings can be idols. We are overly impressed with the things of this world. Jesus is more impressed with the grandeur of a heart which stands firm for him no matter what.
When rebuilding old shrinking churches there are two inevitable things we must face: change and conflict. Any rebuilding necessarily destroys something old. Sometimes drastic action is required and anger arises. In church life we tend to focus overly much on things that we have built and not enough on people. We look too much to our traditions and not enough to God’s instructions. We worship our complications and not the simplicity of Christ. The same was true in ancient Israel. In order to rebuild the faith, sometimes existing structures must go. When Jesus prophesied in Luke 21:1-19 that the temple would be destroyed, he was predicting an important change, a revolution in faith. If we are not willing to move forward in faith, then perhaps God will step in and destroy what we have built for our own good.
Christians are divided by ideas yet united in Jesus. Some are proud of a tradition of ignorance and lack of education. They claim that the apostles were uneducated men, yet they were educated for 3 years by the Master. Others praise their own education in the traditions of their denomination and look down their noses at the teachings of others. Yet, even good ideas can become like idols. Idols need to be destroyed. The same was true of the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 21:5-19). It had once served a good purpose, but it had become a national idol. The more we study Jesus, the more we realize how ignorant we are of God’s perspective. Instead of being vain about our education or lack of it, let’s all realize our mutual ignorance and sit at the feet of the Master.
A story is making the circuit of a tour group being shown through St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. One tourist asked how much it cost and the astute priest tour guide responded that it cost most of northern Europe. He was referring to the Protestant churches which left the western Christian Church in large part because of the financial scandal associated with funding that building. In another sense then, instead of being a monument to the Apostle Peter, it is also a monument to sin and arrogant pride in the Church. Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 21:5-19) carries with it similar lessons. If we are not willing to change, then the traditions and structures we have built can become monuments to our own sin and conceited arrogance which God must eventually destroy.
The Jerusalem temple was so incredible a building that when the sun reflected off its gold covered sides, people had to look away, it was so bright. Jesus predicted its destruction in Luke 21:1-19 but also also spoke of a truly permanent temple and an important cornerstone. We are that house of God (Ephesians 2:18-20). We so easily forget that people are more important than buildings. The beautiful physical stones of that worldly building were destroyed. We are the living stones (1 Peter 2:4-6) that are being placed into a spiritual temple. People still weep for the destroyed temple in Jerusalem today. They are deeply disappointed that it is a ruin. Our hope is not in physical buildings but a permanent structure being built by Jesus Christ. If we build with him we will not be disappointed.
How can we tell if a preacher is on the right path, way off the track or somewhere in between? None of us can claim that we are all right on every issue, but we often deceive ourselves into thinking that we are more right than wrong. In Luke 21:1-19 Jesus taught some major warning signs that would distinguish false teachers from the rest of us who, although still very faulty are perhaps at least headed in the right direction. Jesus describes those giving off such alarm bells as many not few. Not too many claim to be Jesus, but many do make Messiah-like claims such as the sole place to find salvation or exclusive knowledge about salvation. People who make prophetic claims about the immediacy of Jesus’ return are certainly sounding a warning bell — not to follow them!
A church planter friend once said that he knew how to build a church a mile wide and an inch deep, but that only a true pastor could build depth. A principle behind Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple in Luke 21:1-19 was the greater importance of inner spiritual depth over visible signs like buildings. How then do we build a foundation of spiritual depth if the comfort of a building does not help? A good building has a foundation that stands firm. We are to stand firm. A list of things outside of a church building that helps us stand firm follows: Don’t following false preachers who make wild claims about salvation and the end of the world. Do not be frightened. In the midst of calamity and hatred, rely upon the strengthening that God gives.
When Jesus was at the temple in Jerusalem he was not impressed by most of the religious leaders. His disciples were impressed with the architecture. His comments in Luke 21:1-19 indicate a very different perspective than what is normal in our society. What impresses us most at church? Is it puffed up people with big titles and fancy clothes? Is it extravagant and ornate church architecture? Some people are offended by churches because of such things. God is also offended when we are more impressed with status and materialism than with him. Jesus had the most praise for a widow who gave very generously at the temple. Could it just be that one of the most important reasons to attend a church is the opportunity to learn from the examples of the many faithful people with whom we fellowship?
We have borrowed a word from Greek to mean someone who dies for their faith. The word in English is martyr. It comes from a similar Greek word used in Luke 21:5-19 which is often translated as testimony. For many Christians their witness or testimony has been in their willingness to die for their faith, to be martyrs. And what a testimony! Throughout Christian history many have been betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and some have been put to death. Currently 50 countries are on the world watch list at Open Doors of those who persecute Christians the worst and the Voice of the Martyrs tells many of their stories. May we pray for them and follow their example by standing firm no matter what may come, so that we too "will win life."
Apocalyptic books such as Daniel and Revelation are accepted in all Christian Bibles. There are studied with 4 predominant views of prophecy: fulfillment mostly in very early history, mostly throughout history, mostly in the future and symbolic fulfillment any time any place. These four camps are often called preterism (ancient fulfillment), historicism, futurism and idealism (symbolic or spiritual fulfillment). Because apocalyptic literature is largely symbolic in genre, it seems logical to see its prophecies as also symbolic. A symbolic view also has a place for all three other views. So when we read of prophecies in other literature such as that in Luke 21:5-19 we can see elements which were fulfilled at least in type shortly afterwards (Jerusalem surrounded and trampled) and some which will be more logically completely fulfilled only at Christ’s return (the Son of Man coming).
Warnings in prophecies like Luke 21:5-19 are strange to us in countries with great religious freedom — Christians tried, believers betrayed by relatives and friends, some put to death, everyone hating us because of Christ. Christians live such tribulation in about 50 countries today. North Korea is the worst. An estimated 400,000 Christians face labor camps and death if caught. Saudi Arabia is second worst. It has no religious freedom. 1¼ million Christians are threatened with imprisonment, deportation, torture and death. Afghanistan is next worst. Thousands of Christians there face kidnapping and killing. With over 300,000 Christians Iraq is next, where they are threatened with home burning, abduction and murder. Last in the worst 5 is Somalia, where a few hundred Christians live. They face abduction and murder with no religious freedom. Let us pray for them.
Some people read apocalyptic literature like Luke 21:5-19 and try to hide in man-made caves, while others read it and resolve to live a fuller Christian life by faith. There certainly is a time to flee from impending persecution. So, why is it better to live life under normal circumstances by faith than be a worried prepper? Nobody knows the day or hour of calamitous times. Every generation since Christ thought that theirs was the last generation and none of them was right. What a lot of time was wasted. Many false prophets have taken advantage of people by making such false predictions. Jesus encouraged us not to worry about being overly prepared but to put our faith in him. Worry and doubt distract us from the most important job at hand which it to spread the gospel message.
I once knew of two elderly brothers who owned a farm and still used the first and only car they ever bought, a Model T Ford. Once a month they drove it to town for supplies. When most of us change cars occasionally, they endured through all the repairs, changes of parts and even occasional change of engines to keep their one and only car for life. In a throwaway world, most of us do not have such endurance. Yet, there are some things that we keep for life. It may be family bonds, keepsakes, a bank account or a phone number. Our bodies change dramatically over a lifetime but our fingerprints change very little. Endurance is a habit that we make consciously and against all odds. It is a good habit that leads to eternal life (Luke 21:5-19).
Is the soul as well as the body asleep until Christ’s return (1 Corinthians 15)? How could that square with the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) or Stephen’s prayer “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59)? Are passages referring to death as a sleep literal or figurative? Is purgatory the place of judgment (Hebrews 9:27) and where atonement may be made for the dead (2 Maccabees 12:43-45)? Is resurrection instantaneous after death where believers receive a spiritual body (2 Corinthians 5:1-10)? Is the spirit absent from the body and consciously present with the Lord in heaven (Philippians 1:19-26) but awaiting a body at the return of Christ (Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)? All die and by God’s grace we can enter his joyful presence forever (Luke 20:27-38).
Presumed dead but alive seems to be a theme regarding the patriarchs and matriarchs of antiquity in the Gospel message according to Luke. Many Sadducees were wealthy priests who did not believe in the resurrection. Luke quoted Jesus as saying that God is the God of the living. Phrases similar to God being the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are repeated often in the Old Testament. Yet were they not all dead? If so, then God would be called the God of the dead. So, they must be alive to God, even though we call them dead. The parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) also shows Abraham as alive. God is the God of the living implies something more than just a future life. It implies that our lives today are already blessed with eternity.