Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

"Figs" Sermon: Luke 21:25-36

[Luke 21:25-36]
November 29, 2015 Second Reformed Church
            If you looked at the trees outside on your way to worship this morning, you would have noticed that the leaves are mostly dead and a good number of them have fallen to the ground.  This is a sign that it is what season?  Fall.  And it is a sign that what season comes next?  Winter.
            And if we were to look at another time and see buds all over the branches of the trees, we could conclude that it is what season?  Spring.  And what season follows that?  Summer.
            So, we understand that there are signs in nature that indicate what season it is.
            And we would probably agree that there are signs of other things getting ready to happen:  When the Christmas items come out in the stores, it is a sign that it is almost Halloween.  When people begin to viciously condemn each other and claim the violent end of our nation, it is a sign that we are heading towards a presidential election.
            Jesus was talking about signs in the text that was read this morning – and our text is actually the second half of the answer that Jesus gave to His disciples.  Let us briefly go over what the questions were and how Jesus began to answer them before we look in more detail at our text.
            Jesus had been in the Temple with His disciples, and some of them began to comment about the beauty and the grandeur of the building.  And Jesus told them that the day was coming when the Temple would be destroyed, and not one stone of it would be left standing upon another.
            We can imagine their shock as they asked Jesus:  “What signs will occur before the Temple is destroyed?  What signs will occur before Your Kingdom comes?  What signs will occur before the end of the age?”
            “We want to be ready when these things occur – what signs will precede them, so we can be ready for when these things happen?”
            And Jesus explained to them that before the Temple was destroyed, false Christs would come claiming to be Him.  Others would come claiming to be the real Savior.
            Wars would break out and the Tribulation would begin – severe persecution of believers would begin.
            Earthquakes would occur, and there would be famines and pestilences, and finally, when they saw Jerusalem surrounded by armies, the Temple would be destroyed and Jerusalem would be captured.
            And Tribulation will continue until the end of the age.
            Jesus continued His answer to their questions in the text that was read this morning.
            And we see, first, as the world becomes more uncertain and unstable, our hope grows.
“’And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.  For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Now, when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’”
Jesus now turned to answer the questions about the signs of the Kingdom and the end of the age, and Jesus told them that the signs of the Kingdom and the end of the age include cosmic disturbances of unprecedented proportion.
Paul wrote about the end of the age and the oncoming restoration of the Creation:
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:19-23, ESV).
Since the Creation was subjected to futility – to its own suffering – due to the sin of our first parents – who plunged all of Creation into suffering – the Creation has been experiencing birth pangs – the contraction pain began when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden.  And you may know, if you have been pregnant, or have watched TV where someone was pregnant – the pain and the contractions get worse as it gets closer to the time of the new birth.
Likewise, the Creation will have stronger and more painful contractions as we near the day when Jesus returns and restores the Creation to its state prior to being subjected.  So, the Creation is going to get more unpredictable and more unsteady and more violent as it lets out screams of pain and as the new birth comes near.
The sun will not function properly, the moon will not function properly, the seasons and the tides will be thrown out of whack.  And the reaction of the people who experience this shifting and contracting will be to look at what is happening in the Creation and fear it – to faint at the signs – to be filled with foreboding of disaster.
Consider again a woman about to give birth:  as her pain and the contractions increase, she becomes more agitated, she may cry out and even say things to her husband that may not be her true feelings; the husband may start to turn green and even faint to the floor as he sees what is happening.
Jesus said the same thing will happen in Creation and people will react like the stereotypical husband of a delivering wife.
And when – as it were – the Creation is just about to give birth – in the moment of greatest uproar and unimaginable cosmic shaking, Jesus tells them all the world will see the sign of the Son of Man – we will remember that the title, “Son of Man,” is Jesus’ favorite title for Himself, and it signifies God the Savior come as a man – God Incarnate as a human.  And every person throughout time and space will see Jesus coming back to earth on a cloud with power and glory – this is the time that He will judge all the people of the earth.
We will remember that last week we noted what occurred when the Resurrected Jesus was received into glory: 
“And when [Jesus] had said these things, as [the disciples] were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold two men stood by them in while robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?  This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9-11, ESV),
And we’re not surprised, are we, to hear that unbelievers will be horrified and confused as the Creation seems ready to completely fall apart and then Jesus appears – glorified – coming back to earth to be our judge?
But what does Jesus say to we who believe?
“Straighten up,” “raise your heads,” “because your redemption is drawing near.”
As we see Creation – so to speak, “spinning out of control” – and unbelievers despondent and frightened – even hysterical – Jesus tells us to stand up straight and to walk before Him with confidence, because these are the signs of His coming – our Redeemer is coming – our being completely transformed into His likeness is coming.
As these seeming disasters come upon us, we are to stand confident and declare that these are the signs that Jesus is God the Savior and He is returning to receive all those who will believe in Him, judge the world, and restore the Creation.
Jesus tells us that we are not to be afraid, but to understand that these are signs and confirmation that our hope of being with Jesus in glory is coming to pass.  When everything is uncertain and unstable, rejoice and have hope, Jesus is almost here.
Second, Jesus swears that His Word is wholly true.
“And he taught them a parable:  ‘Look at the figs tree, and all the trees.  As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near.  So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.  Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.’”
Jesus told them a parable about fig trees:  you know summer is on its way when you see the fig trees budding with leaves.  In the same way, when they saw the false Christs, wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, and Jerusalem surrounded by armies, they were to understand that Jerusalem and the Temple were about to be destroyed, and the Kingdom of God was near. 
And Jesus gives them an additional note about the time:  this generation will not pass away before all these things happen.  The youngest member of the generation that Jesus was talking to – among the disciples – would not die before all these things came to pass.  People who were alive and standing before Jesus would see Jerusalem and the Temple destroyed.
And that came to pass:  in 70 A. D. – less than forty years later – some of those who had been with Jesus that day saw Caesar Titus and his armies conquer Jerusalem and destroy the Temple.
And Jesus confirmed His prophecy by saying:  “’Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.’”
“This broken, corrupted, stained, warped, marred, sin-filled Creation – the heavens and the earth – will all pass away – they will be cleansed and renewed and reborn – restored as the perfected Creation – but nothing can ever – nothing will ever – change what I have said or what I have prophesied.  Everything I say is true eternally.”
Still, we can imagine some of the disciples being shaken:  “Some of us will be alive when Jerusalem and the Temple are destroyed?  Is this the last ‘hoorah’?  How are we to react to this?”
Third, Jesus said we are not to be overcome by the world, but to be comforted by His return.
“’But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.  For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.  But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’”
            Jesus said that all we who are awaiting His return are to watch ourselves – to be aware of ourselves – to understand how we are feeling – and to buffet ourselves with Jesus’ Words – with the Word of God.  We are to always have Jesus and His promises – the whole Word of God before us, because it is easy to lose track and give up or give in.
            Jesus said not to be overcome – or weighted down – by the world.  Don’t let the daily struggles, or the changes in the world, or the threats of evil-doers cause you to doubt Jesus and what He has promised.  Don’t doubt – don’t lose confidence – don’t lose hope – stand strong – stand firm in the Word – hold fast to Jesus and His salvation – rest in God.
            Don’t be weighed down with dissipation – don’t be weighed down with pleasure-seeking.  Don’t think that if the end is coming, we might as well party like it’s 1999!  There is a temptation to think that if we have been saved by Jesus and the end is coming soon, we might as well engage in every type of physical pleasure we can think of now, because we will not be engaging in those physical pleasures in the Kingdom.
            To think that way is to think that Christ and His Kingdom is a lesser pleasure that engaging physically with men and women.  Don’t misunderstand – physical pleasure within marriage is good – but even the best physical pleasures now will seem insignificant compared to what we will experience in worship in the Kingdom.  So, let us use our bodies to glorify God.
            Don’t be weighed down with drunkenness.  Similarly, if the end is coming, and we have received Jesus’ salvation, there is a tendency to think we might as well spend our remaining time in a drunken or drugged-out haze.
            But, again, that is to disparage Christ and His Kingdom, in which all of our senses will be perfected, so we will experience joyful sensation in a way and to a degree greater than we ever could now.  So, let us use our bodies to glorify God.
            Don’t be weighed down with the cares of the world – and Jesus does not mean that we should not be wise in how we live.  We are to be wise in how we live.  We are to live within our means and still help others and support the work of the spread of the Gospel.  But we are not to be paralyzed by the stock market, or by the latest news report, or by someone saying that there are bombs aimed at us and we’re all going to die.
            No, we are to live lives of wisdom,  We are to be in the world, living in the world, proclaiming the Gospel to the world, recognizing the Absolute Sovereignty of God over everything, so we are not overcome by the world and everything that happens in it.  That’s one reason I stopped watching the news – it got me all wound up and upset – when almost nothing that the news said was accurate.
            Two of the big stories that were pushed as true and certain and of absolute cosmic need for worry while I was growing up were that we were heading for the next ice age and humans were going to become extinct and, the rain is turning to acid and soon we will all be scarred and die from it – and humans will become extinct.
            That’s not to say that I never get wound up any more – I do.  But, with the help of God, I am learning to trust more and more and understand it is not in my hands and it is not in your hands – everything is in God’s Hands – the same God Who is our loving Father.
            So, let’s pray God that we will trust Him for Who He is – the Absolutely Sovereign One, and let us have hope in Him, because He is the One Eternal Truth-Teller – and He tells us not to be weighed down with all these things around us – to be wise, yes – but to be comforted in knowing that these signs mean Jesus is returning.
            If we allow ourselves to be overcome, if we give in and seek all the pleasure we can find, and numb ourselves, and faint away at every news report, when Jesus returns, it will be like a trap snapping closed.  If we cannot find hope and trust in the God Who sent His Son to live and die and rise to save us, maybe we don’t really believe, and maybe that truth will be the light that comes on when the trap shuts closed over us.
            Do you believe?
            Make sure.
            Jesus ends this text by telling them – and us – instead of being overwhelmed by physical pleasures and drunkenness and the cares of the world we are to – first, stay awake.
            And of course, when Jesus tells us to stay awake, He does not mean that we are never to go to sleep – He means that we are to always be ready – always be alert – that we are to test what people tells us and the way things look against the infallible and inerrant Word of God.
            Now, the Bible is not going to tell us the best way to cook a turkey.  But, if someone comes to us and tries to wind us up because this country and that country are going to shoot their bombs and the planet will explode and it will be the end of the human race, we can look to the Scripture and see that Jesus is going to return to this planet, so we cannot blow it out of existence and end the human race.  And if someone tells us that we have to give ourselves an ulcer over global warming or we will all die in the floods or from cancer, we can learn what we can about the subject, act with wisdom in the way we live, and trust and look forward in hope to the God Who is returning for us.
            Get the idea?
            And Jesus said, second, we are to be in prayer that we don’t be overcome by pleasure-seeking, drunkenness, and the cares of the world. 
            The fact of the matter is we are sinners – redeemed sinners who still have a sin nature that wants us to follow after it – and we need to pray that God will give us what we need not to be overcome – we need to pray that God will send the Holy Spirit to strengthen us so we will take the way of escape that He has provided so when we are tempted to be overcome, we will say, “no,” and trust and follow and hope in God instead.
            If we are not overcome, we will be comforted in knowing that Jesus is on His way back, and when He returns, we will be able to stand before Him as His brothers and sisters, because of the work He did on earth some two thousand years ago as our Substitute before His Father.  We will not cower before Jesus in fear because we hate Him or because we are unforgiven, but we will stand before Him in awe and thanksgiving and worship and love.
            So, let us look for the signs and grow in our hope.
            Let us know what God has said and trust that His Word is ever true.
            And let us not be overcome by sin, but overcome sin by the Power of God the Holy Spirit by staying awake and praying and longing for the day when we will stand before our Lord and Savior in glory.
            Let us pray:
            Almighty God, it is so easy for us to fear and to follow after sin, but You have given us signs and promises in Your Word so we would not sin, but hope and trust and be comforted in You.  Help us to long to know You better, to search Your Word more diligently, that we would know You and be at peace.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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