December 21, 2019 Advent 21, Luke 21- The Widow’s Mite, Destruction, War, and the Coming of the Son of Man

widow's mite

Read Luke 21.

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box,  and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” Luke 21:1-4 (ESV)

At this time of year we are often concerned with giving gifts.  Most of us are giving out of our abundance.  It’s neither good nor necessary to give lavish gifts we can’t afford to people who already have too much stuff to begin with.  It is good to give generously and to those who have a genuine need.

God doesn’t need anything of ours.  Even if we were to have the resources to build a fine cathedral or to give large sums of money to the church, we don’t give in order to earn favor with God.  Jesus has done that for us as a gift.

Giving is an act of faith.  Some of us are capable of giving much, but others of us can only give a widow’s mite.  The motive behind our giving is our faith.  Do we trust God with all that we have and all that we are? (the answer is no, we can’t…)

The rest of the chapter is not very cheery.  Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and of the things that will come to pass in the end times.

And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” Luke 21:5-9 (ESV)

It can be said that there have not been too many periods of time that the world (especially the Middle East) has been peaceful.  Since Jesus walked the earth there have been countless empires that have risen and fallen.  There have been wars, skirmishes, tumults and takeovers, coups, assassinations, intrigues and so much more man-made evil and violence. We long for peace and we pray for justice and mercy, only to see more wars, corrupt governments and injustice go merrily along.

We hear those who come to the table with false gospels- the false gospel of prosperity, the false belief that there is salvation in “social justice,” the name-it-and-claim-it, “best life now” self-help preachers, or the cults led by false prophets such as Jim Jones or David Koresh who claimed to be God, but were anything but. Jesus has warned us against those pseudo-christs that cannot save.

Christian people will face persecution for speaking out for Jesus.  In some places believers are martyred simply for standing up for Jesus and not backing down from their faith..  Jesus has warned us about this also:

This will be your opportunity to bear witness.  Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death.  You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.  But not a hair of your head will perish.  By your endurance you will gain your lives. Luke 21:13-19 (ESV)

The Holy Spirit will give us the words to say if we are persecuted for our faith.  Jesus is faithful.  In the grand scheme of things, He has promised to keep us faithful to Him.

“And there will be signs in 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.” Luke 21:25-28 (ESV)

There will always be war and dissent in this world, at least until Jesus returns.  The natural disasters, wars and other unrest will only escalate until that day. Yet our hope, Jesus is coming to redeem us and remake our world. For believers, this will be a day of great joy.

“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.” Luke 21:34-36 (ESV)

As we come closer and closer to the celebration of Christmas- the Incarnation, Jesus coming to earth as a helpless child, we remember that Advent is also about being ready and awake for Jesus’ return.  He is the One Who holds us up and makes us able to stand. We pray that in Christ we will stand firm and that we will join the everlasting celebration on that day when He returns in glory.

August 23, 2017 – God is Forever- Isaiah 55:4-6, Mark 13

Far Side God _1

Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples.

 I will bring near my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope.

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath, for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended. Isaiah 51:4-6 (NRSV)

The science of astronomy has shown that the universe is constantly expanding and changing. Nothing that we can see or experience within creation is permanent. Everything begins and ends, except God and His promises, and we have a really difficult time wrapping our minds around that one.

Human understanding is necessarily limited to things that we can perceive with our senses, so it can be hard to trust in the permanence and constancy of God when everything we encounter eventually decays, dies or changes in some way. Entropy is inevitable.

Jesus warned us that there will always be wars and rumors of wars, as well as earthquakes, famines and various other types of civil unrest, (see Mark 13) but that He is with us no matter what happens in this world.

It is easy to be cynical about the state of the world especially should we ponder over the news for too long. However, when we watch the news, we must remember that reporting tragedy, drama, gossip and pathos is what keeps people watching the news and keeps the media in business. Sponsors pay for advertising, so the media needs to put on a good show. Otherwise people won’t bother watching, and then how would we ever know what widget we can’t possibly live without?

Good news is never reported as much as bad news is. No reporter would bother to focus on the 499,999 people in the city who didn’t get fatally shot last night.  The one person who did is the one we want to know about.

It can be tempting to go to one of two extremes in our conduct and stewardship of this earth. We can live in a way that only has regard for today because we know today is temporary.  Unfortunately this approach is not God-honoring as it does nothing to bring about or preserve God’s kingdom here on earth.  We should conserve resources and use them wisely.  We should strive to leave the earth a good place for our children and grandchildren.  The earth- whether it is going to last millions of years longer, or for only one more day- is God’s good gift to us and should be treated as such.

It is worth knowing that in spite of (and sometimes because of) our efforts, nothing here on earth is permanent. This doesn’t mean to plunder at will, but neither does it mean to hoard resources to the point of denying people a way to make a livelihood or causing undue hardship.  There are ways to use the earth’s resources wisely and be good stewards without calling for us to bury our cars or forgo personal hygiene.  There is a balance.

We have no way of knowing when our last hour will come, or when the Lord will return and the kingdom of God will arrive in its fullness. We can’t even be sure of the nature of that transformation.  What will the new heaven and new earth look like?

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I still would plant my apple tree.”- Martin Luther

We have no way of knowing or proving what life beyond our existence is going to look like, or even for sure when that transition will take place. Jesus said we would not know the day or the hour when He returns.

(Jesus said): “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Mark 13:32-37 (NRSV)

We don’t know when our own personal end will come either. Only a small electrical charge is all that keeps a heart beating. It is the barely tangible difference between life and death.

The best that we can do is to trust God and know that He is beyond it all. We are supposed to do and be who and what He created us to be, and to hold on to His promises even when the world and its circumstances would seem to contradict the sovereignty and permanence of God and His kingdom.

God is in control. Amen.