“On October 19, 1918; D. W. Sutherland, acting mayor of the city of Kelowna, B. C. created the following public notice: “Notice is hereby given that, in order to prevent the spread of Spanish Influenza, all Schools, public and private, Churches, Theatres, Moving Picture Halls, Pool Rooms and other places of amusement, and Lodge meetings, are to be closed until further notice. All public gatherings consisting of ten or more are prohibited.”
Folks, we have been here before in our history. A pandemic is sweeping our world and it is impacting life as we know it. This should not surprise us as the Scriptures remind us, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun (cf. Ecclesiastes 1:9).”
In the past month our lives have been completely upended. Each day new updates impact and affect our lives. We are constantly being updated with the severity of this virus from various parts of our world. Not only is there sickness and job loss, but some are losing their loved ones.
So how should we respond at this time? Does the bible have any practical guidelines that we can embrace in order to find our footings as everything is being shaken? We are reminded that God’s kingdom cannot be shaken. We shall see, when we put our trust in God we are standing on a firm foundation.
While things generally move quickly in our present world, changes in the ancient world came about more slowly. Jesus was about to be crucified and then ultimately leave the disciples. He responds to a comment that they made about the glory of the earthly Temple. Jesus begins to explain to them and us the catastrophic nature of things that will unfold in our world. Yet, while Jesus is describing the coming catastrophes on earth, he leaves us with words of hope.
In Luke 21 we find what Jesus has to say to his disciples regarding these times. Jesus leaves us with four insightful words on how best to respond in life’s catastrophes.
DO NOT BE DECEIVED!
The disciples in a conversation found in Luke 21, were focusing on the glamour and sense of permanence of their present time. They were marveling at the splendor and grandeur of the Temple one, of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Jesus spoke some very challenging words explaining that all that they saw would be destroyed. So often the present situations of life tend to obscure and hide the ultimate realities of life. We should not be deceived into thinking that this earthly life is the permanent life. When catastrophes come it reminds us of how fragile this life is.
What many of us don’t realize is that we have lived in a time of incredible blessings and prosperity, but one of the problems with times of prosperity is that we tend to live as if this life was all that there is. We live for the moment. One of the secret blessings of problems is that they may make us look outside of ourselves. They cause us to look around, and within, and hopefully upward. We begin to look to God.
Another temptation in a time of affluence in this life is that we tend to look on the outward aspects of life, the natural and physical elements as if they were the enduring elements of life. Yet the truth is that all that we see will one day no longer exist. The spiritual elements of life, those things that we are unable to see today are the enduring elements of life.
A. The disciples were commenting on the beauty of that imposing structure of their day, the temple.
“Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said,
‘As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down (cf. Luke 21:5-6).”
What started as a comment of admiration, Jesus turns into a teachable moment? How many times does God use that which is around us to capture our attention toward powerful spiritual truths? For Moses, it was a bush that was not being consumed.
At other times, we receive God’s message through the difficulties we experience in our lives. We are then reminded of the sustaining grace and power of God. The apostle Paul had many hardships in his life. One thing He learned from them was how God would show His mercy and comfort, and because of these lessons, he was able to share them with others (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:3-11).
Now the disciples hear that the central feature of their way of life was about to be destroyed. This was a shocking statement and caused all kinds of questions and concerns. Like these early disciples, we also, are shocked by this sudden pandemic. The outcome of self-isolation and business closures bringing about lay-offs has created a feeling that a way of life seems to be slipping away from us.
Yet for some, COVID-19 still seems distant, but not so for many parts of our world where many lives are now being lost. Some are asking, ‘Why is this happening to us? What should we do? Crisis has a way of devastating us and changing our life’s outlook. Many people are not prepared to handle crisis moments because they are not spiritually strong when the storm hits.
B. Another aspect that emerges is a new way of worshipping.
Crisis often strikes at the heart of how we worship as believers. We were used to gathering together, but now with restrictions we deeply feel the loss of community. I don’t think we have any idea of how significant the Temple was in the Jewish understanding of worship. The temple was the center of the Jewish sacrificial system.
Now what did this mean to the early disciples? Jerusalem, the city where the Jewish people came three times a year to celebrate their festivals, was about to be destroyed. How were they to understand their faith in the light of this incredible change?
We know that the focus was moving from the shadow of what that sacrificial system pointed to which is now fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus speaks to this with the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar.
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship in Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).” In other words, worship would become more focused on the internal rather than the external. It would come from a transformed heart. A. W. Tozer pointed out: “Keep a Christian from entering the church sanctuary and you have not in the least bit hindered his worship. We carry our sanctuary with us. We never leave it.” Why, because the new temple is God’s Presence now residing in a renewed heart (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
C. When there are times of uncertainty there is a longing to see things change for the better.
The disciples were curious, not only when these things would take place, but when it would happen. We all want to know what lies ahead.
“Teacher, they asked, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place (Luke 21:7)?”
In other words what should we expect and how are we to respond? Who are we to believe? Where do we look for answers? Jesus enumerates several characteristics of the time in which they were about to enter before the temple and the city would be destroyed. In less than forty years this prophetic pronouncement by Jesus was fulfilled through the Roman general Titus as he subdued a Jewish insurrection. It was brought under control with the incredible destruction of places like Jerusalem and finally, Masada. No wonder Jesus wept upon entering Jerusalem that final week. He saw what was about to transpire to that city.
Yesterday, as I was reading the story of Jesus’ friend, Lazarus who died, I noticed Jesus’ response. He wept even though he knew he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. Why? I believe that this reflects the heart of God as it relates to death and its impact upon our lives. Death is one of the enemies that Jesus came ultimately to destroy.
Jesus warns His disciples to watch out for false messiahs and those claiming that the time is near. Often when catastrophe strikes, people quickly point out that the end is at hand. In other words, don’t be deceived. It’s the ‘Chick Little’ little response: ‘The sky is falling; the sky is falling.’ There are always those that point that this catastrophe means that the world is coming to an end.
He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, I am he, and, The time is near. Do not follow them (Luke 21:8).”
How often do individuals prey upon the fears of the unsuspecting, and take advantage of people’s fears? So, Jesus’ first word to us in a catastrophe is ‘Don’t be deceived.’
DO NOT BE AFRAID!
Fear is a normal response to unsettling times. Unsettling times create this idea that we are losing control. Folks, I’d like to point out that we have never been in control. One of the most important lessons is life is to learn that God is in control, and that in good or bad times, we need to trust him.
One thing we should never do is give in to the Spirit of fear. That spirit is not from God (cf. 2 Timothy 1:7). Fear is a powerful motivator and it generally torments our minds and causes us to make wrong decisions in difficult times. Why are people hoarding? Fear! People tend to go in one of two directions in crisis and catastrophe. One group responds by living in denial and does not take any precautions and adjustments in what they are doing. While the other extreme is to overreact. It is interesting the list of things that Jesus describes that will happen in our world before he renews this world and establishes his kingdom upon it. He tells us that there will be conflict: wars and revolutions. These activities create great instability in countries as well as great loss of life.
‘When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened’. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.
Then he said to them: ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom (Luke 21:9-10)’.
Once again, we see the statement, ‘but the end will not come right away.’
Notice the word of Jesus to not allow fear to overtake us. He says: do not be frightened.
Again, Jesus adds to the list of catastrophes including some of what we would call as natural catastrophes.
“There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven (Luke 21:11).”
The word pestilences or plagues is what we are currently experiencing. So, what is Jesus word for us specifically? ‘Do not be frightened.’ Why? Because we have placed our lives in His hands. Jesus has this under control. We also know as a child of God, a follower of Jesus, that we have eternal life. If we have placed our faith in Jesus, we now have eternal life. The bible gives us this amazing assurance.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13).
DO NOT WORRY!
The natural response to threatening situations is to worry. Jesus here is speaking specifically about how to handle persecution and what to say. But worry finds itself not only in the challenge of persecution but in all kinds of challenging situations. Can God protect me from COVID-19 or heal me if I contract it? Can God care for me and my family in a changing economic climate? Can God make a way where there seems to be no way? Of course, He can! God can make a way where there seems to be no way.
Jesus’ words, regardless of the catastrophe or challenge that we are faced with, remains the same. ‘Don’t worry.’
“But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.
And so, you will bear testimony to me (Luke 21:12-13).”
God allows persecution for his people to bring a witness to others.
In this context the concern or anxiety is that we will be able to say the right thing under that kind of scrutiny and pressure.
“But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves.
For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.
You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.
Everyone will hate you because of me (Luke 21:14-17).”
It was amazing how the early believers were prepared to give their life for the sake of the gospel. They took it as a badge of honor. They considered it a privilege to suffer and die for Jesus.
Years ago, some of us had the privilege of seeing the catacombs in Rome. We were astounded by the number of dead buried beneath the city of Rome. One catacomb alone ran for 17 kilometers under the city and they estimated that there were 150,000 burial sites in which whole families were buried. In other words, millions were buried under the city of Rome. It was in the catacombs where early believers gathered secretly for worship in order to avoid detection. Many martyrs were buried there. What is fascinating to me is that the Greek word martyr meant to testify or witness, but because so many of the early believers testified at the cost of their lives, the word shifted it’s meaning to mean those who died for their faith, and they did so willingly. Many who were slaves who were living a terrible earthly existence saw dying for Christ as an incredible honor. They realized that Jesus had died for them and gave them a reason for living by having a hope beyond this difficult earthly existence.
Throughout the texts of the Bible we have the challenge that we are not to worry, but rather to bring our concerns to God with confidence and thanksgiving, knowing that God will take care of us. Faith realizes that God is in control; that He loves us and that He is able to guide our steps and provide for us in very difficult times and situations.
For those worrying about tomorrow’s provisions for life, Jesus gives us this promise.
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:31-33).”
This idea is framed by the words that we are to stand and remain true to God, despite the things that life brings our way.
“By standing firm you will gain life (Luke 21:19).”
In the Old Testament there are two significant themes: creation and redemption. In other words, God created a perfect world in which sin entered our world through human disobedience and the result was that all creation began to decay and perish. So, what does God do? He has a plan to restore it and restore us as human beings to that state where the image of God is being renewed in our lives because of God’s redemptive act.
In the Old Testament the greatest example of redemption was demonstrated at the Red Sea, where God’s people were delivered by his mighty hand. In that moment of apparent catastrophe God spoke through Moses and told the terrified people some amazing words.
“Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.
The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still’ (Exodus 14:13-14).”
What does Jesus tell us when all these catastrophes begin to come upon us?
“When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads your redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:28).”
In our text here, Jesus sees a day when a siege will be mounted against the city, and he leaves some specific instructions for that hour.
“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.
Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city.
For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written (Luke 21:20-22).”
This instruction flowed against the prevailing wisdom of that time. Generally, people near a city would run into the city for protection. Jesus is saying leave the city, for it can’t protect you because it’s under the judgment of God.
I wonder how many people are trusting in something for their protection that is under the judgment of God? If that’s the case, we will suffer as a result. Why were they about to be judged? Because they had rejected God’s provision of deliverance. God had come to them in the person of Jesus to save them, but they had, for the most part, rejected him. It is interesting that the early Jewish Christians took Jesus’ words to heart.
Of all the people on this planet we (as believers) shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the coming upheavals that will sweep across our planet. We have been forewarned. The good news is that these difficulties are announcing the coming of our Savior. Our life here on earth is really a dress rehearsal to what lies ahead. We are preparing to experience what lies beyond this life.
I like how Max Lucado relates coming to this destination. “As we get older, our vision should improve. Not our vision of earth but our vision of heaven. Those who have spent their life looking for heaven gain a skip in their step as the city comes into view….
We would think it bizarre for a traveler not to be prepared for the end of the journey. We would pity the poor passenger who never read his itinerary. We’d be bewildered by someone who thought the purpose of the trip was the trip.”
The goal of life is not just the here and now. If that were it, then for the majority of people on this planet, throughout the ages, this life would have been a great disappointment. But this isn’t all there is. This is just the preliminaries leading up to the big event.
So now what? How can we live in this moment of potential illness, death and economic upheaval? We need to hear the words of Jesus. Don’t be deceived, frighten, or worried but live in confidence and rest. We are trusting Jesus to deliver us. As Jesus closed his comments to his disciples and to us, he gives us a warning that we all need to listen to. We are to live carefully.
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap (Luke 21:34).”
These things described by Jesus are diversions from an alert attitude. Dissipations are just frivolous diversions. Things that waste our time and energy. One of the great strategies of the devil is to entice us to waste our lives on things that don’t really matter.
Drunkenness is a form of self-medicating in order to escape the realities of life. Obviously, Jesus is talking about alcohol here, but it extends beyond that to whatever desensitizes us from an alert and watchful stance. Jesus adds the ‘anxieties of life.’ The very pressures of life can distract us from the primary aspect of life. Living for him and living with an expectation of his arrival is paramount.
Now having heard what Jesus has said, how should we respond?
“Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21:36).”
Are you ready to enter eternity? Have you put your trust in Jesus? Turn to Him today and allow his love and grace to bring forgiveness and love to you: removing deception, fear, and worry from your soul.
 Posted in Face book page, March 26, 2020.
 A. W. Tozer, My Daily Pursuit: Devotions for Every day, January 15.
 Max Lucado, He Still Moves Stones, (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1993), 78-79.