In folklore and literature there are many famous deadlines. You recall how “Oil can Harry” grabbed the fair maiden and said, “If you don’t give me the deed to your ranch by sundown I’ll tie you on the railroad tracks!” Then there is the Mafia’s Godfather contract. “Either your signature or your brains will be on the contract tomorrow.” And who could forget lovely Cinderella and her deadline, the stoke of midnight! In our text for today Jesus is talking about another famous deadline, His second coming. And in this rather lengthy text Jesus is talking about what His disciples should be doing until that fateful return.
First off, Jesus told His disciples to look up! He said, “When these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). What were some of “these things” Jesus said were evidence that His coming was soon?
Our Lord predicted earthquakes. In the past year China, Russia, Japan, California, Mexico, and just this week– Iran, have had earthquakes.
Jesus also said there would be famines. Russia’s crops were disappointing again this year. They are buying wheat from American farmers. Did you know that at least half of the world population is underfed or malnourished? Over 22,000 people starve to death each day.
Christ also mentioned that there would be wars and rumors of war before His return. In the twentieth century there have been to date over 3,000 wars. In fact, more people have been killed in war in this century than in all other centuries combined. And just look at the wars and rumors of war still at hand– the Mid-east, South Africa, Iran, Ireland, Yugoslavia, and of course, terrorism.
The Lord also mentioned pestilence. At first thought of pestilence one thinks of Locust and swarms of pesky insects. Actually the Greek word for pestilence means, “Trouble with the soil or little troublesome things in the air.” It makes one think of pollution, doesn’t it? And we’ve got plenty of that in the air, in the soil, and in our water.
If you are like most people you have a tendency to say, “Now, now. Don’t get all excited! We’ve always had wars and pollution, quakes and famine.” Yes, that is true. But the Bible qualifies how man’s problems will come upon him in the end. The word is travail (I Thess. 5:3, Romans 8:18-24, Mark 13:14). The Bible predicts that man’s difficulties will come like birth pains, like a woman in travail. The pain comes with greater and greater intensity and the pains come closer and closer together. Isn’t this just what we are seeing happen to us with war– closer and closer together, each one intensifying? And isn’t the same true of quakes, famines, and pestilence?
Christ also predicted that many would come in His name. “I am He!” They will say. (Luke 21:8). Did you know that Korean cult leader Sun Moon is claiming to be Christ? Thousands are following him! The radical Muslim group that took over the Grand Mosque in Mecca claims that their leader is the Messiah also. And again, thousands follow him. The Lord also predicted that before His return there would be terrors and great signs from heaven, persecution, men fainting with fear, the fall of Jerusalem, the dispersion of the Jews, and their eventual return to form a New Israel. Jerusalem fell in A.D. 70. From that time until 1948 the Jews were scattered. Now they have their own nation again. Prophecy, history written before it happens, is being fulfilled right before our very eyes!
“When these things begin to take place,” Jesus said, “Look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Isn’t this just the word so many need to hear today? Many Christians are walking around with their chins on their chest. “The world’s going to the dogs!” “I quit! The liberals have got it all!” Cynical, bitter, defeated, critical– many Christians look at the world and look down. But Jesus said, “Look up!” Remember Peter waling on the water with Jesus? As long as Peter looked up and at Christ he was sustained. But when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the sea and its waves he began to sink. That’s just the point Christ is making here in the text. When quakes and war and fear, famine and pollution are all around you don’t look at all these evils and sink into despair. Look up! Look at Jesus and be sustained. Your redemption draws near! Jesus is coming! Have hope!
What should the church be doing until the second coming? “Look up!” Jesus said. And in the text Christ also tells us to shape up. Jesus said, “But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare; for it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth. But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36).
Jesus, standing before His disciples, was urging them to live faithfully. If you know something about ships, captains, and storms at sea, then you’ll know what Christ was saying here. When a ship is at sea and a storm looms near, the captain will give the order for the crew to make the boat sea-worthy for a storm. The crew lashes down the gear, battens down the hatches and closes all portholes. If a wave crashed over the bow into an open hatch the sea water flooding the hold could swamp the ship, even capsize her. That’s why the crew must be faithful to its task to check and double check her sea-worthiness. It’s the same with Christ and His church. Predicting the stormy world ahead, the Lord calls His church to faithfulness. Don’t let the storm surprise you. Get ready! Be strong! This is the urging of Christ.
When I was a high school student I played football. Each summer about 100 boys showed up for the beginning of practice. Boys who were overweight, boys lazy and half-hearted reported for practice. Even a few lads in good shape came out. Coach Boswell set us to work running laps, doing exercises and sprints in the hot August sun. He denied us water, made us learn to keep our helmets on, pushed us until we did it right the first time. Well, a lot of fellows quit after the first day. Coach Boswell pushed and pushed us until a football team began to take shape and until only 40 men remained. Some say Boswell was heartless; others said he was a despot, an overzealous disciplinarian. But I say he was a great coach! I know. I stayed with the team. I played in the games. When the blows were coming hard and we were down by six in the fourth quarter we could always come back and win. Because we’d learned to sweat and drill and study we won some victories! No one romped over Graham High School! Christ is saying the same thing to His church. People show up here in all kinds of shape. They have all sorts of ideas about how things ought to be run. Most people want it easy. But Christ says, “Shape up!” That’s why we have regular worship here. That’s why we insist on the calisthenics of praise, confession, thanksgiving, hearing God and responding to Him. That’s why I urge you to be in Sunday morning fellowship, to learn group prayer, to be committed and disciplined. It’s so you won’t be clobbered and defeated in the world ahead. The Lord has predicted a tough schedule ahead for the church. “Shape up!” He says. “Get in training!”
Now, I know that there are many of you that don’t like me. You think I’m heartless or a fanatic or a despot of a disciplinarian. I’ve urged training upon you. I push for inactive members to be cut from the roster. I mean for deacons to do their work or resign. The same with elders. I challenge you to seek and find your gifts and employ them. This is not all done without a reason. It’s done to shape up the church, to put her in foul weather trim and fighting form. It’s done so the church will survive and have a prosperous ministry in the future! And it’s done in line with Christ’s command in our text, “Shape up!”
What should the church be doing until the second coming? Look up! Shape up! And now Christ says we should speak up! The Lord predicted, “You will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony” (Luke 21:12-13). In other words, the church until the second coming should always be expectantly, optimistically looking for Christ’s return. We should shape up by putting our faith in Christ, by getting into good spiritual shape as individuals and as a church. Then we can speak up telling the gospel to the world. Two years ago a pneumonia vaccine was developed that can prevent an infection that kills thousands of people each year. The news has been filled with happy reports of this saving drug. It’s good news and people are telling it everywhere! The gospel should get us even more excited! Christ can cure more than pneumonia. He can forgive sin, overcome death, build character, establish justice, and instill love. Isn’t that exciting? Why be ashamed to talk about Him? As Christians we can tell the world that man is fallen and sinfully broken like “Humpty Dumpty.” We’re broken in our relationship with God, neighbor, self, and creation. Education can’t save us. Neither can politics, welfare, medicine or science. But what all the kings’ horses and men could never do for “Humpty,” God can and is doing for people in Christ! He is right now restoring us to right relationships with God, man, self, and creation. He can make us whole again!
I preach about 200 times a year, and quite often people ask me what I preach about. Well, actually, when I stand before a crowd I know that there are two basic kinds of people out there. There are those not in Christ and there are those in Christ. To those not in Christ I say, “Get in quick!” I tell them about the cross, repentance and faith. The message to those in Christ is this: “Enjoy all that it means to be in Christ!” It’s simple, isn’t it? And don’t you think you can share that with your friends and loved ones? “Speak up!” That’s God’s Word to you at this time! Tell the world that there is a God. Tell them that He loves justice and mercy, compassion, righteousness and faith. Tell them that He died on a cross to forgive their sins. Tell them He knows all about them and He still loves them. Tell them He wants to adopt them as His child, to bring them into His family, the church, where they can be fed and cared for. Tell them they can work with God to make the world some better. Tell them Christ is going to return again to judge the world and restore it. Yes, tell them! But tell them it all begins for them with repentance and faith.
If there is someone here today who does not know Christ as his Savior I’d like to take this chance to say God loves you! He wants to adopt you as His child. Why to not turn to Him by faith in Jesus and allow the Lord to put you in shape to love God, men, yourself, and creation? God is so good! And He wants to be good to you!
I Shall Return!
During World War II General Douglas MacArthur left the Philippine Islands. The Japanese were approaching in overwhelming numbers and MacArthur left to muster his forces. Leaving a small and outnumbered army behind, MacArthur promised, “I shall return!” That word was to give hope to those who remained behind in the difficult years of enemy occupation. Christ has given that same promise to His church. In Acts 2 Jesus is asked when He will return to establish His authority. He told them, “It is not for you to know, . . . But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witness.” After saying this Christ ascended. The disciples sat there dumbfounded and gazing into heaven. To shake them from their stupor two angels came and said, “Why do you stand there looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw Him go into heaven.”
This is to say that we shouldn’t sit around gazing into heaven, occupying a lot of time trying to blueprint the future. The second coming is not an excuse to flee the world. It’s an incentive to stay and heal it, to make the world better until Christ returns to make it the best! And that’s what the church should be doing until the second coming! Look up! Don’t be afraid! Shape up! Be faithful! And speak up! The Lord is coming!
Come Lord Jesus! And until you do give me strength to work for you, to live and witness faithfully. For Christ’s sake. Amen.