Since the presidential election, I have heard many predict the end of the world. And before the election, TV evangelist Jim Bakker even said that if Hillary Clinton won, next month we would be celebrating our very last Christmas. I have heard Rev. Billy Graham say more times than I can count that he believed the end of the world was coming in his “lifetime.” That’s rather scary coming from a man who celebrated his 98th birthday this past Monday!
Even before this nasty presidential campaign, the Barna group found 4 in 10 Americans, and 77 percent of evangelical Christians, believe “the world is now in so called “biblical end times.”[i]
So, in spite of what we may think about this subject, this morning, perhaps more than ever, we need to hear what Jesus has to say about the end of days.
About “the destruction of it all,” in verse 7, we read where they ask Jesus: “When will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?”
In verse 8 we read Jesus’ answer: “Beware that you are not led astray.”
Then Jesus specifically warns us to stay away from those who claim to be holy and say, “The time is near.” Jesus says, “Do not go after them.” Do not follow them. Do not listen to them. Do not pay them any attention!
Well, glory halleluiah! Because with all the troubles in this world, I really don’t want to preach about the Zombie Apocalypse today. So, Amen Jesus! Let’s move on to some more pleasant things! Let’s get onto a happier, more cheerful subject! Enough of all this gloom and doom, misery and woe!
Ok, now let’s listen to what Jesus has to say next! Hopefully, it will be something much more uplifting than World War III! If it’s not the end of the world, perhaps he still has something to say that will turn our eyes, if just for fifteen minutes, away from the suffering of this world.
“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you. They will bring you before synagogues and governors.” “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; you will be hated by all because of my name; and they will put some of you to death.”
Come on, Jesus! Are you serious?
But I guess if we have been reading and listening to Luke, we should not be that surprised. It is as if Jesus is saying:
“Do not worry so much about the tribulations that will come with the end of the world; because, if you are following me, if you are faithfully living as my disciple, if you have fully committed yourself to carrying a cross, if you are truly serving those I call you to serve, if you are working to build my kingdom on this earth by building safe communities that preach good news to the poor, and speak truth to power while defending the powerless and standing up for rights of the marginalized, welcome the foreigner while respecting other faiths, provide quality and equitable education for children so they can one day earn a fair wage, take care of the sick and advocate for those with exceptional needs, if you are working for my justice and my wholeness in this fragmented world, then there is no need for you to fret over the end of days. . . because you are going to stir up plenty of trouble to worry about today!”
“Because you are truly living for me by loving this broken and suffering world as much as I love this world, you will sacrifice much. People will try to break you, and you will suffer. Organized religion will resist you. The state might arrest you, and you will certainly be hated. You will be defriended by friends and disowned by family.”
Matthew remembers Jesus saying on another occasion: ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today (Matthew 6:34).
Then Jesus adds: “But this will give you an opportunity to testify.”
Jesus seems to be saying here: “Don’t focus so much on the end days. Don’t dwell on the impending doom and demise of it all, but instead, focus on the opportunities that you have today in this hurting world ‘to testify,’ to selflessly and sacrificially serve me by serving others.”
I believe Jesus is saying: “It might be ok to think and dream about leaving this troubled world behind one day. It is fine to have the hope that someday, somehow, some way there’s going to be no more evil to fight. It is wonderful to know a time is coming when there is going to be no more mourning, crying, pain, presidential elections, and death. However, if avoiding Hell is the only reason you are Christians, then you have missed the whole point of who I am and who you are called to be as my disciples.”
I believe Jesus is saying to us today: “Don’t go to church looking to avoid a suffering world. Go and be church bearing the sufferings of this world. Don’t go to church looking for some fire insurance. Go and be church allowing me lead you into the fire! Don’t go to church to escape a world going to Hell. Go and be church committed to loving the Hell out of this world, even if it gets you killed.”
This is exactly why I believe so many Christians are tempted “go after” those who love to preach about the end of days, especially those who say that it is coming in our lifetimes. For it is far easier to believe that God has already given up on this world.
It is much easier to look at the nastiness of this past election and believe that it is all a part of God’s divine plan, a preview of things to come! It is easier to believe that earthquakes and hurricanes and tornadoes and poverty and war, political corruption and terrorism, amplified racism and sexism, a divided country, are all part of God’s apocalyptic will; it is easier to accept that God has already given up on the world, so we might as well give up too; than it is to believe that God calls us to selflessly suffer alongside those who are suffering.
It would be much easier to believe that Christianity is only about getting a ticket to heaven to escape this troubled world and its problems, than it is to believe that our faith is about serving those who are troubled in this world.
British scholar Lesslie Newbigin comments: “In an age of impending ecological crises,” with the “threat of nuclear war and a biological holocaust” Christians everywhere have “sounded the trumpet of retreat.” They have thrown their hands u and have given up on the world. Their faith in Jesus has become merely a private, spiritual matter. Faith is only something they possess, something they hold on to, to insulate them from the sufferings of this world and to someday use as their ticket out here.
In the meantime, they withdraw into safe sanctuaries looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth. And they listen to angry sermons by angry preachers condemning the current world to Hell in a hand basket.
And giving up on this world is really nothing new. At the turn of the first century, Jews, called Gnostics, had a similar view of the world. Everything worldly, even the human body itself, was regarded as evil.
And maybe they had some pretty good reasons to believe that way, because regardless of what some may believe, things in the world did not start going bad with this presidential campaign. The truth is: things have been pretty rough in this world ever since that serpent showed up in the garden.
At the turn of the first century, Jews were a conquered, depressed people, occupied the Romans. And they were terrorized daily by a ruthless, pro-Roman King named Herod—a king who would stop at nothing to have his way, even murder of innocent children. The Gnostics looked at the world and their situation and came to the conclusion that they were divine souls trapped in evil bodies living in a very dark, God-forsaken, God-despised world.
However, the good news is that the Sunday after next begins the season of Advent, the season that we remember that it was into a very dark, and seemingly God-forsaken, God-despised world, that something mysterious happened that we call Christmas. A light shone in the darkness proving in the most incredible and inexplicable way that this world is anything but God-forsaken or God-despised!
The good news is God loves this world so much that God emptied God’s self and poured God’s self into the world. God came and affirmed, even our fleshly existence as God, God’s self, became flesh. And God came into the world not to condemn the world, but to save the world. For so God loves the world that God came into the world and died for the world.
Thus, the message that we all need to hear today is not that the end is near as God believes the world is worth destroying, it is that something brand new can happen, a light can still shine in the darkness, because God believes this world is worth saving. God believes this world is still worth praying for, working for, fighting for, suffering for. God still believes that this world is worth dying for.
As the body of Christ in this world, we are not called to retreat from the world and its troubles, but we are called to love this world, to do battle for this world, to even die for this world. We are called to be a selfless community of faith in this broken world. And, no matter the cost, we are called to share this good news “for God so loves this world” with all people.
And the good news is: though we might be arrested by the state and get some push back from organized religion, though we are betrayed by family and friends, though we are hated and could even be put to death, God promises that not a hair on our head will perish, and by our endurance, we will gain our souls. Thanks be God.
[ii] Leslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, 113.