Sometimes, when I read the Scriptures, I get the feeling hanging out with Jesus would not have been much fun. I know it was not the purpose of His coming, he did not take on human flesh to entertain or just to have a good time with us. Yet, I often imagine He must have been sort of a killjoy, like the person you hang-out with who always dismantles your big ideas. For example, take the account of when His disciples are chatting about the beautiful buildings in Jerusalem. No doubt the Temple itself would have been the focus of their attention; it stood tall among everything surrounding it, massive stones overlaid with gold that caught the first lights of the morning sun. It filled spectators with a sense of awe and wonder. So, they are rightly commenting on its beauty when Jesus interrupts their appreciation and says, “You like what you see? Well, the days are coming when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” In other words, He is saying, “Take a good look now for its all coming down.”
The disciples immediately ask a few follow-up questions. They want to know when this is going to happen and what the signs will be when these things are about to take place. Jesus focuses on the second question first: What are the signs these things are about to take place? The signs are terrifying. The picture He paints is not a pleasant one. There will be false teachers who will rise-up within the Church, leading the people of God astray. There will be persecution where even the most intimate bonds of humanity will be torn apart. Parents will betray their kids, brothers their sisters, friends will turn aside. There will be wars and earthquakes and famine and pestilence. Jesus tells His followers how they will be hated because they are Christians. What He speaks about is violence. It is violence against the Word of God, violence against the Church, and violence against you.
It might be difficult for us to see the seriousness of what Jesus is revealing to us. In our day, violence is a common theme in our entertainment. From the video games we play, to the movies and TV shows we watch, violence is intriguing, engaging, and an expected part of the storyline, something we presume to see, something which fascinates. So, we hear Jesus speaking about the signs of the end and the destruction of Jerusalem and we hear it the same way we see it on the big screen. Moving to be sure, powerful of course, but entertaining in the end. We can get lost in it and forget the dire warning attached to it. We can lose the message the violence is intended to deliver. It is a message about the movement of time, about the wrath of God, and about the return of Christ.
Last Thursday, as I was in the car driving to church, the news reports were just coming in about the latest school shooting. This time, just about an hour drive from here. As you listened to the parents of those kids interviewed on the news the common theme was the shock and horror that something like this, some horrifying violence like this, could actually happen in their town. This was no video game, no source of entertainment, this was real. The fear was real, the tears were real, the loss of life was real. Everyone is caught off guard. Everyone is shocked. And now the constant and unending search for some meaning in it all begins. It does not make sense for it to just happen. There must be a reason. Not that it has to be a rational one or even an understandable one, but there must be some sort of cause leading to this moment. Because when violence comes close to home, when it touches our lives and the lives of our kids, we need to know why. We need to pay attention to what it is telling us.
So, when our Lord speaks about the tearing down of the wonderful stones of the Temple in Jerusalem, when He says, “Woe to the pregnant women and those with nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people” (Luke 21:23), He is calling us to see how things will not go on forever. He is declaring that the grace and mercy of Christ will collide with the sinfulness of man and it will be violent. We see it on the cross of Calvary as the Son of God suffers and dies, as the earth goes dark and the tombs break open. We see it in 70 AD when Jerusalem is surrounded by armies and the city is destroyed and the Temple is reduced to rubble. But all of it points to a greater day to come, the day when this earth counts down to its final hour, when the powers of the heavens themselves will be shaken.
Jesus is calling us to see time does not roll-on forever. There is an end. Things are moving toward something, toward the judgment day, toward the end of this age. Think of it this way. Have you ever had one of those moments where, for whatever reason, you are shaken awake? An instant where you can see yourself and where you are in life and you wonder how it got to this point? Maybe it is with your job, maybe it is with your marriage, maybe it is with your children, but you suddenly find yourself in a situation you are unhappy with. It is a position where you are ashamed about this being how you have ended up. This is not where you wanted to be. This is not how you envisioned it all playing out but somewhere along the line you just fell into the routine, the cycle of things, the daily grind and you forgot to look around yourself. You acted as if you had all the time in the world. One day you look up and see time has been moving on all along and time is getting short. As a result, things get left undone, unsaid and untouched.
As the children of God, you are called to remember time is not cyclical but linear. It had a beginning and it will have an end. While you do not get to know the exact hour in which it will all end, you know full-well the signs of the end. You know the things which mark the final days. They are the things we see on the news, the struggles of humanity, the terrors of violence all around us. They are moments that ought to cause us to wake up, to take note of the limits of our time, to act while we still can. You are called to live in opposition to a world of fear and death. Because of Christ, you are in a unique position; a position of life and hope and strength amid all the despair and fear of this age. You are free to have compassion and speak forgiveness just as you have known the compassion and forgiveness of our Savior.
I love what Jesus says to His disciples as He reaches the climactic moment of describing what it will be like when the Son of Man returns. He says,
“Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and rise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
He says you ought to stand tall, stand boldly while others cower and run. Stand confidently while others tremble, for you know the end has come and, even more, you know the end is not actually the end. It is the end of this age, the end of suffering, the end of war and violence corruption but it is not the end of you. No, you will go on, you will continue. This age may pass away, but you are already welcomed by Christ into the age to come. You already have a place in the heavenly wedding banquet.
Stand tall then, my brothers and sisters. Stand tall in the promises of Christ. These days will not last forever. You will know joy without end. You will have the long-awaited reunion. You will experience love without regret and the peace that surpasses all understanding. Come Lord Jesus, come. Amen.