November 13, 2016
You can watch a video of the sermon I preached in 2016 here.
It borrows heavily from Cardelia’s sermon, linked below, and my earlier sermon on this same text, also linked below.
“Joy to the world, no more election news coverage and political ads!” This is how Cardelia Howell-Diamond’s sermon began for the Sunday following the 2016 election. At the time she preached it, none of us had any idea how the political landscape in the United States would be affected, nor how changes in that landscape would impact us now, six years later. But her sermon on this text from Luke 21 still rings true, and I encourage you to read it here.
If you want to see my sermon on this same text from an earlier year (with less political tension), you can find it here. However you are managing to navigate your own post-election stress, this passage in Luke comes just when we need it.
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.
“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” (Luke 21:5-19)
Here’s a message for us, people who realize that structures and leadership can and will fail.
The word “terrified” only appears twice in the entire New Testament. Here, and in 24:37, as Luke describes the reaction of the disciples to the risen Christ, because they think he is a ghost.
Other places throughout the gospels, we are encouraged to stop being afraid, especially when we encounter God at work among us. But when Jesus says, “Do not be terrified” here, he is referring to a future condition, not a present reality.
As Jesus lists the suffering his followers can expect, being terrified might sound like a reasonable reaction. You will face persecution. You will be hunted down for your faith by the religious leaders and civic leaders. You will be put in chains.
None of this sounds like good news, does it? The world as you know it will fall apart, you will lose your freedoms. Not what any of us would sign up for. Then we get to verse 13, and we learn why we can look forward to such suffering: This will give you an opportunity to testify.
All of this will happen, so that you can tell the good news of Jesus Christ, not after you’ve survived your suffering, but right smack dab in the middle of it. You will be betrayed, hated by family and friends, but Jesus will be with you, giving you the testimony you need to bear witness to God.
I think the kind of testifying Jesus is referring to here is that ‘midst of the storm, no end in sight’ testimony. This is the kind of testimony that acknowledges God is God, no matter what the world may look like.
And Jesus also says that, when we are called to testify because of our faith, we don’t need to prepare an elaborate speech, because he will give us “words and a wisdom” that our opponents will not be able to contradict. Stand firm to the end, Jesus tells us. “By your endurance, you will gain your souls.”
How can we endure the suffering that comes with being a follower of Jesus Christ?
By being a follower of Jesus Christ.
For it is in following Christ that we gain our souls. The word Luke uses here describes the essence of who we are. Some versions translate it as “very life.” By your endurance you will acquire your own very life. This is life that is full, rich, abundant, and eternal.
Such life, such endurance, is God’s gift freely given to all who believe, to all who claim Jesus both as Savior and as Lord. No matter what trials we face, no matter what disasters overtake us, we have the power to endure to the very end if we accept God’s gift to us. That gift of unshakeable faith will see us through whatever may come, whenever it happens.
We testify to this truth: Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. Christ has died that we might have life. Christ has risen, that we might have eternal life. Christ will come again, that we who endure may enjoy eternal life, abundant and full, here and now, and as we reign with Christ in glory forever and ever.
If you have never claimed this promise of enduring, abundant, eternal life for yourself, I invite you to do it now. Place your trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, and turn your life over to him – not only so you can endure to the end, no matter what trouble comes your way, but so that you can receive the life that Jesus wants to give to you, a life of peace and wholeness, a life of joy, a life that has been changed, so that you are free of fear and able to endure. Then you, too, can testify to what the Lord has done for you, as you trust in him, and are transformed by his redeeming love.