Our Opportunity to Witness, Luke 21:5-19

A sermon delivered on November 13, 2022, by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.

Our journey in Luke’s gospel is quickly ending as the church year officially ends next week with Christ the King Sunday. The lectionary has had us wading through his version of the Jesus narrative this year and as we make our way toward 2023 and a new year of readings, where we will be diving into Matthew’s gospel.

For the last few months, we have been on a road trip with Jesus that began north in the regions of Galilee, and we have followed him southward along the Jordan river to the village of Jericho, and now he has joined the throngs of people on the way to the Passover in Jerusalem. Jesus has situated himself in and around the Temple courts. People are coming and going, shoving this way and that. Lambs are baying and you can distinctly hear the sound of doves flapping their wings and cooing. Jesus has attracted a huge throng of people that have gathered around to hear what he is going to say, or even better, wanting to see what he might do! The religious leaders are there to see if they can stump him and tease him into incriminating himself with false teaching. Jesus’ disciples, meanwhile, were still clueless about what was going on but kept thinking about how they were going to figure in Jesus’ new government. The energy and excitement in the city are palpable. Think Carnival!  This morning we find Jesus near the spot people gave their religious offerings and noted the depth of sacrifice a poor widow made compared to a rich man who could afford to give out of his largesse. This is where we pick up in Luke 21.5-19. Hear the Word of the Lord.

Luke 21:5-19

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.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes and in various places famines and plagues, and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

12 “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. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance, 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and siblings, by relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls. [1]

So here you are taking in the city. It’s a beautiful day and you can feel the festive atmosphere. You don’t get to the city often but here you are in Jerusalem during the Passover festival. You’re taking in the sights and sounds and getting caught up in it. You and I stop, and we have to shield our eyes because of the gold lining the walls of the Temple are glaring from the sun’s light. Giant, white-cut stones the size of minivans are used to build the walls of the city. We sit back and sigh out loud, “Jes-usss, just look at this place!” It’s then Jesus turns his face towards us with that look that communicates, “Really?”

You and I are in the carnival and feel the energy. Jesus begins to speak, and the gravity of his words is so jarring that the rest of the world melts away and we are just hanging on his every word ignoring the chaos about us. We were thinking we were talking about architecture and aesthetics; Jesus uses the moment to talk about the hard realities of life for those in the early church as well as his proclamation for the impending destruction of Jerusalem which came to be some forty years later. 

Our text has Jesus make three predictions for people who comprise the church both yesterday and in the future. He then speaks of an opportunity for the Church when those predictions become real. Finally, Jesus offers us a hopeful promise.

First, Jesus makes three dire predictions. One, people will come after him who will threaten to lead astray the life of his new community of followers. He is warning the people of his day, as well as you and me, that we are to keep our eye on Jesus and not imposters. Others will come along looking for power and fame and pretend to be leaders they aren’t.  Indeed, some crazy guy with a Messiah complex actually led 6,000 Jewish refugees into the temple in AD 70 while it was being destroyed, and ancient historian Josephus indicates they all burned to death following that false messiah.[2]

Jesus then goes on to make two other predictions. There will be war and unrest among the major national players of the world, and there will be signs seen in cataclysmic natural disasters that point to the coming of God. To put the proverbial cherry on the cake, Jesus then reminds his listeners that people will turn on one another and will hate you and me, run us down, and arrest us simply because we wear the title, Christian.

It’s right here I want to hit the pause button.

Let’s stop for a moment. When we hear these portents of things to come, we hear all these warnings and you and I immediately think Jesus is talking about “those people” in the future when the Big Apocalypse occurs — You know, the whole, “When Jesus comes again” thing. I suppose we could read our text that way. But why would Luke have Jesus make predictions about a future you and I will never see or experience in our lifetimes? Why is it we read this and think it’s about ‘other Christians’ in the distant future? What if it was not only written to Christians in the future but was written for the Church today living in the present moment? Maybe, just maybe, Jesus is telling you and me the hard realities of what it means to live as a Christ-follower. Beloved, we have Jesus telling the Church God’s expectations for us when the world turns sideways.

I mean, in our time we have witnessed religious leaders get populations all frothed up about God’s coming again. We peruse our current headlines from around the world and hear of the brutality of war from Ethiopia to eastern Ukraine. You and I live in Florida so don’t go telling us about natural disasters!

So, what’s Luke trying to do? Luke is telling you and me that when these signs take place (and on this side of history each of us knows national unrest, wars, and natural disasters have occurred continuously since Jesus made these predictions), we are expected to be witnesses for Jesus in the world in the midst of our suffering and hardships today.

Professor Nancy Wakefield of Wabash College writes, “Testimony is usually reserved for the stories that declare how God brought the faithful out of slavery into freedom, how God made a way when there was no way; how God acted to save a distressed people. The peculiar words of Jesus in this passage, however, tell us that when we experience destruction, betrayal, and loss, we are to see these times as opportunities to testify.”[3]

 Each of us experiences suffering in our lives. Each of us witnesses the betrayal and brutality of other human beings. Each of us hurts or has been hurt. Jesus expects you and me to take those hurts and share with others how we have been transformed by them. In a world of natural, national, and personal disasters, Jesus wants you and me in our specific hurt and pain to share with others the hope we have and drew from in Christ in spite of those sufferings. It’s only through Jesus that death has lost its power and influence. It’s only through Jesus the suffering in our world is redeemed. It’s only through Jesus that sense can be made of nonsense and hope bud and grow from the tiniest seed.

What is your specific witness Jesus is or can use to bring healing and hope to those around you, to those who are upset with you, to those who are persecuting you? Where has God worked Easter miracles in your life’s garbage and trauma? What word of hope can you share and give to others stemming from the pain in your life?

Beloved, Jesus gives us three predictions about how we will experience troubles in our life. Jesus reminds us of his expectation we are to witness and share what he has done in our lives in the midst of the pain and suffering. But I want to end my thoughts by lifting up his promise given to the Church, given to each of us.

Yes, false prophets will arise and try to gain our attention and pull us off the path. Yes, there will be rogue rulers and politicians who foster war and hatred of others. Yes, there are and will continue to be natural disasters from hurricanes hitting in November to water levels dropping dangerously low with wildfires scorching the land. But! But he gives us a promise in the last two lines of our text: Not a hair on your head will perish, beloved. Stand firm, beloved, tell your Story, and give your witness because when you do, you will gain a more textured and full abundant life!  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

A sermon preached by © 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301 on November 13, 2022.  Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission. All rights reserved.

[1] New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Anchor Bible. The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV (New York: Doubleday Books, 1986), 1,335.

[3] Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 4: Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ) by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, https://a.co/6EcqIy6.

About patrick h wrisley

A Mainline Presbyterian Orthodox Evangelical Socially Minded Prophetic Contemplative Preacher sharing the Winsome Story of Christ as I try to muddle through as a father, friend, head of staff, colleague, and disciple.
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