Pentecost 26 Proper 28C
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 21:5-19 Sermon
November 17, 2013
Click here for internet service broadcast/podcast.
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 376 "Rock Of Ages"
TLH 611 "The Day Is Surely Drawing Near"
WOV 734 "Softly & Tenderly Jesus Is Calling"
WOV 690 "Shall We Gather At The River"
WHAT'S THE WORLD COMING TO?
TEXT (vs. 10-12): 10 [Jesus said], "Nation will fight against nation and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be terrible earthquakes, famines, and dreadful diseases in various places. Terrifying sights and miraculous signs will come from the sky. 12 “Before all these things happen, people will arrest and persecute you. They will hand you over to their synagogues and put you into their prisons. They will drag you in front of kings and governors because of my name."
If you've seen the news recently, perhaps you know the tragic story that has come out of North Korea. And calling it "tragic" almost seems like an understatement.
We've heard about the notorious dictator, Kim Jong-Un who came to power following his father's regime. We've heard about what a horrible person he is, and how he abuses his power. He has also become a global threat to other nations.
On November 3rd, he committed one of his worst acts upon the people he governs. He had 80 people publicly executed in front of witnesses, the first known activity of this sort to occur since he took power.
So why were the people executed? In seven cities across North Korea, the people arrested were guilty of having videos from South Korea, pornography, or who owned a Bible. Now to further explain this, in August of 2013, it was reported that the North Korean government strictly prohibits the possession of Christian videos and Bibles, often calling them “pornography.”
Here is a quote from a newspaper article: “In Wonsan, eight people were tied to a stake at a local stadium, had their heads covered with white sacks and were shot with a machine gun, according to the source. According to witnesses of the execution, the source said, Wonsan authorities gathered some 10,000 people, including children, at Shinpoong Stadium, which has a capacity of 30,000 people, and forced them to watch. “I heard from the residents that they watched in terror as the corpses were [so badly] riddled by machine-gun fire that they were [almost impossible] to identify afterwards.” And the accomplices and families of these people were shipped off to prison camps.
Kim Jong-Un is trying to stamp out all opposition and control his people by fear tactics. And so, he hosts these public displays of violence to accomplish this. Any hint of sympathy toward South Korea or its western style of government is brutally enforced. South Korea also has a large population of Christians, and is host to the largest church in the world, which is an instant intimidation factor for Kim Jong-Un. And just in case you're wondering, this congregation in South Korea has over a million members and they hold seven services each day; not each week, but each day! And the services are so well attended, that the worshippers have to arrive an hour early to get seated. With numbers that large, we can see how the twisted brain of this dictator would perceive it as a threat.
The article I read ends with these words: "It is deeply saddening to see that the citizens of North Korea can be murdered for trivial offenses. It is also troubling that this dictator can force 10,000 people to watch this horror in person."
One of the things that astounds me, is that the Christian faith supports earthly governments. God wants us to be good citizens. So if the dictator Kim Jong-Un would take the time to even do a cursory study of the faith, he would be able to see this. Christianity is no threat to the government. But you know as well as I do that once people have their minds set on something, changing it is a monumental task. It's like the old cliché goes, "My mind is made up; don't confuse me with the facts."
What is the world coming to? You've probably said those words just like I have. When tragedy, or violence, or acts of terrorism, or persecution, or hardship come along, we tend to ask this question. When we witness man's inhumanity to man, we ask this question. We slowly shake our heads and ponder what is going on in the world.
Our Gospel lesson for this morning from Luke chapter 21 indeed paints a gloomy picture of the future. And Jesus has a lot to say in these few words.
As we begin, Jesus is overhearing his disciples talk about the Temple Complex in Jerusalem. Now I've been to Jerusalem, and I've been up close and have seen and touched the huge stones making up the western wall. This is also known as the "wailing wall." It boggles my mind to imagine how they could have used these huge stones in building. They would have been mined, cut, moved, and set into place using some rather rudimentary tools and equipment. Some of these stones were over 60 feet long and 7 feet high. It would have taken a lot of manpower to do this, and a lot of knowledge about construction. It certainly was a magnificent place, even from what I saw.
But Jesus prophesies about the destruction Jerusalem would experience at the hands of the Romans in A. D. 70. This government, which would have been even worse and more corrupt than the North Korean government would publicly persecute and kill the inhabitants, and flatten their beautiful city and the Temple. And this wouldn't be the first time either, because the Babylonians did the very same thing at the time of Daniel in 586 B. C.
The key point here is the fact that the Temple and the city consisted of all man-made structures. The historian Josephus writes, "The exterior of the structure lacked nothing that could astound either mind or eye." No wonder the disciples were so impressed!
But as nice as this was, it was still constructed by men. Anything man-made is temporary at best. There's an old saying that goes, "If it has been built by man, it can be destroyed by man." And this was no exception.
This actually has a two-fold application. The destruction of Jerusalem would indeed happen at the hands of the Romans in the not too distant future; but it also points us ahead to the destruction of all things when the world itself will come to an end. So we keep these two things in mind as we continue through these verses, especially what will take us into the future, right down to today.
Listen now to what Jesus says in verse 8: "Be careful that you are not deceived. Many will come using my name. They will say, ‘I am he!’ and ‘The time is near.’ Don’t follow them!"
We could spend a lot of time on the subject of false teachers, false prophets, and false christs. There are a lot of them; and ever since the fall into sin, they have existed on the earth. When Satan tempted Eve in the garden, what question did he ask her? In effect he asked, "Did God REALLY say that? Did God REALLY mean that? What kind of ulterior motive did God have when he said those words?" So by directing Eve to "think outside the box" as the expression goes, what actually happened? We know what happened; we call this the fall into sin.
False teachers and false prophets are tempting. People want to know more and have more than what God says in the Bible. So people like Harold Camping comes up with a date for the end of the world, and people blindly follow after him. People like Jim Jones swindles thousands, leads them to Guyana, and poisons everybody with Kool-Aid laced with strychnine. In so many ways, people are mislead.
I could spend a long time on this subject, because Jesus and the Apostles and Evangelists have a lot to say about false prophets and teachers. But Jesus cuts right to the heart of the matter and says, "Don't listen to them." And if you don't listen to them, then you don't follow them. And that's right where I will leave this topic for now.
As we continue through the verses, we can think of so many examples. How about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the other wars and threat of wars that loom heavy over our heads? Then there are earthquakes in places that have never had them, the floods and fires in Colorado, the fires in California, Tsunamis, the hurricane in the Philippines, tornados, and other natural disasters. We have starving people in third world countries. We see and experience illnesses like Parkinson's Disease, AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, Lou Gherig's disease, etc. Oh, what's the world coming to?
But then Jesus gets right down and personal. Things will happen to the disciples, to the Christians throughout the ages, and even to us today. We will experience persecution to a greater or lesser degree for our Christian faith. Other bad things will happen to us as well.
People will betray us, people will do all kinds of things to us, and some may even take our life. These aren't necessarily our enemies either; these are people who could be our neighbors, our friends, and even members of our own families. Bad things indeed do happen to good people.
As gloomy as all this sounds, Jesus ends our Gospel reading today with some very sound words of hope. In verses 18 and 19 we read: "18 But not a hair on your head will be lost. 19 By your endurance you will save your life." What do you think these words might have meant to those people being massacred in North Korea? Would they have thought that God was lying to them, or trying to placate them with empty platitudes?
Through faith in Jesus our Saviour, we are saved. The neon sign outside of the rescue mission simply reads, "Jesus Saves." And that is very true. Salvation is there for the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich alike. There is no difference in the souls of people.
One of the reasons the rescue missions exist is to let people know about their Saviour. Life has dealt a lot of people some very hard blows. People think that nobody cares or loves them, not even God.
But when people come to know Jesus through faith, then it puts everything into perspective. It gives purpose and hope. It gives joy and peace and comfort unlike anything the world could give.
And this joy and peace and comfort is something the world cannot take away either. A person could be left out in the middle of the desert with no food, or water, or clothing. Literally everything can be taken away, except one thing. The thing nobody can take from us is our faith. People may try to do it, or attempt to get us to abandon our faith, but they can never take it from us. Satan cannot rob us of the free gift that the Holy Spirit has given to us.
The events that happened in Korea on November 3rd were horrific. Christians were murdered en masse in front of a horrified audience. But Jesus made a promise to them. He says, "18 But not a hair on your head will be lost. 19 By your endurance you will save your life."
In Revelation chapter 2 verse 10, Jesus says similar words to the church in Smyrna: "Don’t be afraid of what you are going to suffer. The devil is going to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested. Your suffering will go on for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life."
There are so many things in this life that makes us shake our head and ask, "What is this world coming to?" It's coming to an end, that's what it's coming to. We see the various signs that God tells us in the Bible will happen. We see things going from bad to worse. We reckon that the whole planet is falling apart, and society is going to hell in a hand basket.
Just this past week in Colorado Springs, a crazed gunman shot and killed Carol Fowler who was originally from Seward, and critically wounded her husband Tom in an unprompted home invasion. This affected many, especially her family. Even though this kind of thing is senseless and unexplainable, her Saviour was ready to receive her into her heavenly mansion. Despite what the gunman did to her, not a hair on her head was lost as far as God is concerned. It's that kind of faith that sees the glorious hope beyond the tragedy of man's inhumanity to man.
Regardless of how dark and dismal things may get, the cross of Christ shines above and through everything. Our Saviour came to this earth, lived, and died so that our sins would be forgiven. And then he rose again from the dead, giving us the guarantee that because Jesus lives, we also will live. Faith alone in Jesus our Saviour is what saves us and guarantees us a glorious future.
What's the world coming to? As Christians, we are being led into a completely new world where there will be no more weeping, or mourning, or sickness, or suffering, or evil, or any of the burdens of this world. When our faith endures, our lives will be saved in the world to come. And so we remain faithful unto death, for we shall receive the crown of life.