(This written sermon is the gist of what I preached on 9 19 21 out in our church parking lot, and the video of it has been posted at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XDx2ZoYxnU )
Introduction – In response to inappropriate gawking or adoration of the physical glories of the temple as if it were somehow eternal and life giving, Jesus Christ graciously interrupted the conversation of some of His disciples, and informed them that this seemingly eternal and indestructible temple would soon be absolutely destroyed. In response to that shocking declaration, His disciples wisely asked for more details regarding the timing of such, and signs for such. Our teaching time last Sunday explored Jesus’s answer to their questions as recorded by Dr. Luke in Luke 21:5-24, and how that ought to affect we Gentile believers, or how we ought to think about it.
Perhaps because the average devout Jew after hearing that their temple and their holy city (Jerusalem) would be destroyed - - would most likely conclude that the end of the world would closely follow - - now Jesus sensed the need to give some instruction about His return and the signs that would precede it. That discussion begins in vs. 25 of Luke chapter 21 and goes through vs. 36. So why don’t you turn there in your Bibles, and let’s pray, and then we will jump in.
Just as there were certain signs that led to the invasion of Jerusalem by Roman armies and the ensuing destruction of the temple in AD 70, so there will be signs or attesting miracles leading up to Jesus’s second coming. At first glance it appears that these signs will be in nature and among the planets, and will have a terrifying effect upon the average person on the earth. Let’s read vs. 25, 26 of Luke chapter 21, “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
Of course the million dollar question is what specifically will these signs be? And the million dollar answer is no one knows. Some scholars believe Jesus is using apocalyptic language and may not literally mean these signs will appear in our sun, moon and stars and through the roaring of the sea and waves. All over our world today hurricanes, typhoons and occasional tsunamis wreak havoc on cities and nations ,especially those located near seas or oceans. But to varying degrees these natural events have taken place throughout the centuries. And while we grieve at the loss of life and property, we typically gradually recover and life goes on.
What we do know about these signs is they will be way beyond anything we have seen or known before, and will thus cause great dismay and perplexity among all the nations. And strong, tough, self made men will faint from fear as a result. In Matthew’s account of this same teaching of Jesus, found in Matthew ch. 24, this is even clearer.
One of the parallel passages to this that sheds a little more light is found in Revelation 6:12-17, and I would like to read that to you. Now most of the book of Revelation is written in apocalyptic language so it is a bit of a challenge to understand all the details, but what I want you to see is the effect these signs will have on humanity; “I (John the apostle) looked when He (the risen Christ) broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”
Whatever form these signs or judgments from God will take, the effect will be widespread fear and panic and dread among those who are not in right relationship with the living God.
Everyone will see them and everyone will absolutely freak out because nothing like these signs will have ever been seen or experienced on the earth before. And everyone will know God is displaying His wrath towards the hard hearted rebellion of the people. People that He created to know Him and love Him and glorify Him. And for whom Jesus Christ died on a criminal’s cross.
Please note that everyone on the planet will see Jesus when He returns. Look at vs. 27, “Then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN A CLOUD with power and great glory.” A similar passage is found in Revelation 1:7, which says, “Behold, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.”
In vs. 25-27 Jesus seems to be mainly focused on how His return and the signs preceding it will affect the lost or those who have refused to bow down to Him and worship Him.
Now in the rest of this passage He turns to His beloved sons and daughters and gives some helpful instruction on how we are to respond if and when we find ourselves in this last generation that gets to see and experience all of this upheaval leading to His glorious return.
First in vs. 28, He speaks to how we should respond when we first realize the signs of His return are upon us. “But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” When these never before seen or experienced cataclysmic signs begin to burst forth - the world is going to absolutely freak out. For those of us who know the Lord and are living at that time - our response should be the opposite because we will then know that the fullness or completion of our redemption is very near. At that time our full and complete deliverance from sin and pain and sickness and suffering and the wickedness and evil in this world is just around the corner. It will definitely happen in our lifetime. So Jesus says our response should be one of joyous expectation and wonderment. We should hardly be able to go to sleep at night knowing this earthly life with all its trials and tribulations is coming to a close very soon. All wickedness, evil and injustice is soon to be justly and righteously dealt with. And we are going to be with our great Savior and the Lover of our souls forever without any sin or Satan and his demons to oppress us.
To drive this lesson home, Jesus now turns to an analogy in nature. Let’s read vs. 29,30, “Then He told them a parable: ”Behold the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near.”
When we lived in Fort Wayne, IN we experienced six months or so of harsh winter weather every year. I remember one year it snowed on my daughter’s birthday, October 17th. One winter we had two weeks in a row where the temperature never got above freezing. By February at least, all the trees looked like they were forever dead. But then in early April the temperatures started slowly warming, and little green signs of life would start appearing on some of the branches of the trees. The longer the winter, the greater the joy and anticipation of eventual summer weather when we began to detect these trees being resurrected from the seemingly dead.
God mercifully gives us these signs in nature so we can look forward to the promised warmth and thawing and sunshine and no more frozen pipes, etc. So also will God give us these cataclysmic signs so we can know the fullness and completion of the kingdom of God is only years or maybe even months away.
I’m reminded at this point in our discussion of the apostle Peter’s warning regarding the Lord’s return, where he said, “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (II Peter 3:3,4). Jesus endured more than His share of mockers up until His last dying breath. Thankfully they never had a dulling impact on Him. But they do get to us at times.
So perhaps sensing that, Jesus in the next two verses gave His disciples and we disciples a couple of promises or assurances regarding His return. First regarding the timing He promised in vs. 32, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.” Now there are a number of takes or interpretations out there on this verse. My understanding is Jesus was saying, “The generation who sees these never before calamitous signs will also see My return.” In other words, when these signs appear, My return is within decades or perhaps years or maybe even months. It will not be more centuries after these signs.
Second, regarding what we can stake our lives on or go to the wall for, in times of such upheaval - in vs. 33 He declared, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” Massive and ornate Jewish temples and Twin Towers and statues and traditions and freedoms and who knows what else that we earthlings tend to find security in are all going to pass away eventually. But Jesus’s words will endure and should become ever more precious to us. His words, promises, plans and prophecies or predictions are in no way affected by the schemes and plans of His enemies and critics.
Every year I live I sadly have to watch mankind continue to self destruct. Every year I live on this earth - the more I see how razor sharp and absolutely accurate and trustworthy Jesus’s every word was and is.
But we do live in a fallen world. And we are in constant conflict with this evil world system, the devil and his demons, and our own sinful nature. So Jesus now wants to help His disciples win these battles and be ready for His return. Let’s read His instructions in vs. 34-36 and then I’ll make a few comments about them. “Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Successful soldiers never let their guard down. They never lose sight of their enemies. They never underestimate their enemies. One of the serious effects of the spiritual war we are in and the slow but sure deterioration of society is it tends to wear or weigh us down. Because it is never ending, day in and day out, it tends to cause us to lower our guard. Especially when, like the world around us, we seek to bring solace and comfort to our heavy hearts with dissipation and drunkenness.
Jesus wants our hearts to be full of life and faith and passion for His purposes and kingdom and glory. He wants us to be …. Well… like Him – always ready to make the most of a given opportunity, regardless of how others around Him were responding to the stresses of life.
But our flesh longs for an escape mechanism. A quick fix to dull our pain and the stresses of life. Dissipation and drunkenness can suck the life right out of us, especially if we have not learned to rightly handle the worries of life.
Now you all know we are not a “Thou Shall Not Drink Alcohol church”. Jesus’s warning in this passage clearly is against “drunkenness” not drinking per se. But I am troubled by the dramatic increase of alcohol consumption in our society in the last year and a half - especially among women according to some reports. Clearly many are handling the never ending stress of Covid and all the rest of the challenges we have faced as a nation over the last year and a half by hitting the bottle more than ever.
Seems to me for we disciples of Jesus that we should be able to take it or leave it, and certainly shouldn’t need or have to have that daily drink. One of the obvious ways we can know if we have a problem with alcohol or not is whether we can just walk away from it, and not imbibe for a few days or a week or longer.
What I love about our Savior is He never tells us to forsake or abstain from something or some practice unless He replaces it or offers to replace it with a bigger better dose of Himself. That’s why the apostle Paul strongly exhorted in Ephesians 5:18, “Be not drunk with wine wherein is excess or dissipation but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” He never takes away one thing without replacing it with something much better and more deeply satisfying.
And of course what is at risk here is being caught unawares or unprepared when Jesus our Savior and Redeemer returns! What a tragedy for the long expected and glorious return of Jesus Christ to be like a trap for a disciple of Jesus instead of a glorious celebration!
So what can help us avoid this tragedy? Simply this - - Learning to be in a constant state of alertness and anticipation through a life of devoted prayer! Let’s read vs. 36 again, “But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
The apostle Peter puts it this way, “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.” I Peter 4:7
The Return of Christ is ever nearer. It could happen in our lifetime. The very best most strategic thing we can do to prepare for that and for our giving an account of our lives to our Maker at the end, and to avoid all the harmful coping mechanisms we are witnessing all around us is to cultivate a lifestyle of continuous unceasing prayer.
If you are born again by the Spirit of God and have begun to grow in your relationship with Him, I know you have a desire to pray more faithfully and effectively. My experience wherever I have lived and ministered over these last 45 years is most believers know they should pray more and want to pray more, but struggle greatly to pull it off.
So I want to give you some direction in your praying if I could. This is one of those lessons I sorely wish I had learned earlier. And that lesson is: be utterly selfish in your praying! Yes, I want you to make praying for yourself one of your highest priorities.
I began to take prayer seriously in my 20th year of life due to reading the Bible for the first time. And due to reading Power through Prayer by E.M. Bounds, a book which I have read countless times since. But my orientation was mostly praying for others, for the lost, for missions, for prayer requests sent my way by others, for prayer initiatives like the pro-life 40 days for life; and other 40 day prayer and fasting initiatives, etc. I somehow early on developed the attitude that it was sinfully selfish to pray for myself. Or maybe I deceived myself in my arrogance into thinking I didn’t need to pray for myself. And that the need of others was greater than mine own.
But then I noticed one day that Jesus started off His longest recorded prayer in the New Testament in John 17 by praying for Himself. Then I noticed one day how many times in Psalm 119 the Psalmist prayed for himself.
But you might be thinking, “but Randy, the Lord’s prayer or the model prayer for disciples clearly has us starting off by a focus on God and His kingdom and His will.” And I would answer, yes, of course, you should always start off your times in prayer with a focus on and praise and thanksgiving for who God is. But His kingdom, or rule and reign on the earth and His will on the earth must first be accomplished in your life if He is going to be able to use you to see it accomplished in others. That’s why Jesus after His long teaching on prayer in Matthew 6, started out Matthew 7 with the principle that for me to help see transformation happen in others, the priority of my focus must be on myself. If I deceive myself into thinking I only have a splinter in my eye needing removed and they have a beam or a log in theirs, then self righteousness and unrighteous judgment begins to kick in, and I lose my influence or authority to help others; and I blind myself to my own great need.
Whenever I read the Bible, the very first thing I must try to do is apply it to and pray it for myself. Nothing is automatic in the kingdom of God. When I open my bible and land in Ephesians 1 and I notice that it is addressed to the “faithful in Christ Jesus” in Ephesus, I should then ask God to help me be more faithful. When I see in vs. 3 that I have been “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ”, I should thank Him for such blessing and ask that I could experience and walk out every bit of it. When I read in vs. 4 that He chose me to be “holy and blameless for Him”, I should then pray that He would help me indeed be holy and blameless in all my behavior/lifestyle.
And then just practically speaking, if I am a single student perhaps in high school or college, I should daily pray that I could adequately prepare for a lifetime of work and service. And that God would help me prepare daily to some day be a godly spouse if that is His will for me. And that I could break free from all the hopelessness and apathy and passivity of my generation.
If I am married, knowing the high call to Christlike oneness in marriage, I should devote some prayer time every morning to my marriage – that I can be the most godly and effective husband or wife in Christ that I can possibly be.
If I am a father or mother, I should pray every day that Christ would make me an effective and attentive and wise father or mother.
If I hold a job, every day I should pray that He would make me more diligent, more productive, more wise and skilled, more like Christ in the way I work with people and solve problems.
One of the first things I do every morning after I have meditated in the scriptures and prayed about those lessons for myself, my wife, my family, our spiritual family, etc., is to pray through a long sheet of all the recorded prayers in the New Testament (most are ones the apostle Paul recorded) for Anne and I.
My ability to pray effectively for others will never go any higher than my effectiveness in praying for myself. It is out of my own transformation that I can see how to pray for others’ transformation.
I’ve prayed through a portion of our church directory every day for most of my 27 years here at The Well. For many years I did this quite early in the morning. Now I never do it until I have prayed sufficiently for myself, for my wife and I, and for our family.
Never take your own spiritual growth for granted. It is worthy of your best prayer time.
Now when I say you should be utterly selfish in your praying, I am trusting that in your praying you will put first your spiritual growth, your knowledge of God, your pursuit of godliness and holiness, your cleansing from sin and its effects, etc. But you should not stop there. If you own a home, you should be setting aside time to pray for that needed new roof, or for paying off your home, or whatever it is that causes you concern and potential worry. If you own or work for a business, prayer should be devoted daily to the integrity, success, protection and prosperity of that business.
Every day we get closer to the glorious return of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. The days leading up to that are going to be more tumultuous than anything the world has ever seen. Disciples of Jesus do not need to fear those days. Nor do we need to be affected by the fear that will be rife around us in those days. Rather through the alertness and self control and strength that comes through unceasing prayer, we can thrive in those days. And when we stand before Him to give an account of our lives, we can be humbly confident that we will be forever welcomed into His glorious presence.