Luke 21:25-36 (ESV)
Jesus said: 25 “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, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 “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. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 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.”
Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that, no matter what happens, we may continue to look for, and be confident in, the coming kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
What are you looking at?
What do you see?
What does it mean for you?
For example, you might be looking at some fruit trees.
As you look at the fruit trees, you might see trees with lots of new growth. You might see blossoms and bees busily visiting each blossom. You might see small fruit starting to form.
As you look at the fruit trees and consider what you see, what does it mean for you?
Well, it may mean spring is here, which means summer shouldn’t be far away. It may mean you’re looking forward to eating fruit during the warmer months, such as in their raw state, or packaged up in cakes and puddings and slices, or placed on top of pavlovas or yoghurt, or topped with cream or ice-cream. It may mean sharing the fruit of the earth with family and friends.
Another example is you might be looking at the constant news reports of Covid-19 cases, hearing the repeated calls for vaccinations, watching the continuous changes to border restrictions across the country, and you may be considering the ongoing effects on health and families and travel and business and opportunity.
As you look at all these reports, listen to news bulletins, and talk to each other about how this affects you, what do you see and hear?
Do you see people wearing masks and avoiding each other? Do you see plastic barriers between yourself and those serving you behind counters? Do you see QR codes popping up wherever you go? Do you see hand sanitisers and feel and smell the differences between them? Do you see and hear a lot of anger or frustration? Do you notice the restrictions placed on your life and those you love?
As you look at all this and see how much this virus has changed your life, what does it mean for you?
For some it may mean you couldn’t go on the trip you had planned to your exciting holiday destination. It may mean you couldn’t attend those face-to-face business meetings, weddings, funerals, or other precious family visits. It may mean life has changed, and not necessarily for the better, although for some, it may mean we’re able to enjoy our state without tourists clogging up your favourite spots!
It may mean some jabs in your arms in the hope this will protect you and grant you more freedom. It may mean you’re feeling watched and controlled and manipulated and isolated. It may mean you’re feeling afraid and uncertain about the future. It may mean you’re hopeful of having your freedom restored.
In other words, what is the sign you’re looking at, what do you see in this sign, and how will you understand this sign?
Today we hear Jesus tell his disciples to look and see what’s going on around them. He warns us that we’ll see some events occurring which will scare many people, such as cosmic trouble in the sky and the stars. We’ll see seas roaring and foaming. We’ll see many people fainting with fear or responding with overindulgence or anxiousness. We will be worried or anxious about much of what we see and experience, whether it’s about changes in our climate, changes to our health, or the everyday worries which cripple us with fear and trepidation.
He tells us these will be signs – signs of something greater coming our way. When we see these signs, what will we be looking at, what will we see, and how will we understand what they mean for us?
He tells us that they’ll mean something different for us as Christians because, as people who trust in Jesus, whose words and promises never change, fade, or disappear, Jesus tells us we’re to look for something else in these signs.
You see, all the troubles and turmoils and catastrophes around us are signs that our redemption is drawing near.
Therefore, all those things which scare even the most resilient of people are the very things which remind us, as the people of God, to lift our heads in confidence knowing the kingdom of God is near – this same kingdom of God which brings forgiveness, grace, mercy, and peace.
This means we’re confident in the face of trouble knowing that the devil’s kingdom will continue to be crushed, that death has lost its power over us, and that sin is being washed away by the innocent blood of Jesus!
So, knowing Jesus promises his kingdom will come, how will you, as people who trust in your Lord Jesus Christ, look at the signs around you? What will you see in them? Knowing they’re a sign of God’s coming kingdom, what will they mean for you?
For example, when you’re looking at the many Christmas decorations clogging up the shopping aisles and lounge rooms, and as you see so many people gathering trinkets and toys and trees and when you see bank balances emptying and bellies filling, how will you understand this sign? What will this mean for you as Christians?
Will this be an encouragement for you to remember the real Christmas – the real incarnation of our coming Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? Will you be reminded of how he established his everlasting kingdom among us through his incarnation, obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection? Will you be reminded of the need to repent and believe in Jesus? Will you consider Jesus to be the greatest gift which has ever hung on a tree?
When you see the signs of broken relationships, fights between siblings, breakdowns in marriages, abuse in families, divisions in churches, and a world affected by the pandemic of anxiety and worry, what will this mean for you?
Since God’s kingdom comes to establish forgiveness and peace on earth, is the brokenness around you a sign which encourages you to proclaim the forgiveness of sin which comes from Christ? Is it a reminder to forgive each other and share the peace of Christ so that broken or strained relationships will be reconciled?
When you see the signs of sickness, injury, cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other insidious diseases, or when you see people struggling with the ageing process as abilities are slowly stripped away, or as you watch your loved ones die, what will this mean for you?
Will these things be signs of your own mortality which lead you to look for hope outside of yourself? Will you look for, and trust in, the hope of life eternal through faith in Christ who has defeated death? Will you see death as the end, or will you see life beyond the grave in God’s eternal kingdom?
Will you see the presence of Christ who promises to be with you in your suffering and who walks beside you through this valley of the shadow of death? When you’re separated from loved ones or feeling isolated and alone through restrictions to your freedom, will you look for the presence of Christ who isn’t restricted by border controls and still comes to you in Word and Sacrament?
Even when you look at the signs and symbols of the church, such as a pastor announcing your sins are forgiven, or when you see people being baptised, or as you participate in the Lord’s Supper, what will you see? Will you see a quaint and archaic ritual, or will you see and experience God at work among you?
For example, when you were baptised, you didn’t just get your hair wet. You were joined to Jesus Christ as if you were grafted into the Vine of Christ. Joined to him you’ve received his Holy Spirit. Joined to him you were washed of your sins. Joined to him, you were joined to the resurrected Christ who already lives eternally at the right-hand side of God the Father. Joined to Jesus, you’ve been adopted as dearly loved children of God.
Similarly, when the bread and wine are touched by the spoken words of Christ, we see in, with, and under the bread and wine, the body and blood of our living Saviour who grants us forgiveness of sin through our trust in his words. As we receive his body and blood into our own bodies, our faith is strengthened to believe we’ve received Christ’s purity, innocence and life.
Here in these simple mysteries of God, we see God’s gifts of grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, and peace in action, doing what they promise to do.
This is why we also see each other differently. No matter how much fellow Christians get up our noses, hurt us, and frustrate us, we see each other as fellow sinners who have been washed clean and pure and innocent through faith. We see each other’s selfishness and attempts at self-righteousness as signs we still need to receive and pass on the forgiveness of Jesus Christ to each other.
You see, we’re to look, see and understand something different to what everyone else sees. This isn’t because we’re attempting to deny the reality of what’s happening in the world around us, but because we see and trust in the spiritual reality of what God is truly doing in and among us as he brings us into his coming kingdom.
We keep looking to, seeing, and knowing God’s unchanging and eternal Word is real and trustworthy. We know that in this mixed up, muddled up, mortal world, nothing and no-one lasts. But we know God’s Word lasts and will continue to remain true and trustworthy. We know Jesus, the Word made flesh, comes into our fragile and fractured world to give us hope and peace and joy and forgiveness and eternal life as a gift through trusting him and his words.
Through the eyes of faith, we’re to be confident in the face of every trouble and disaster, because we know God’s kingdom comes to bless us. We see God at work among us in order to bring us closer to him in prayer and faith. We see things differently because we know that today we’re closer to the time of Christ’s final coming than any other time in history.
Therefore, as the people of God who are to keep watch and stay alert, are you looking at the right things?
Are you seeing what you’re supposed to see?
What does it mean for you, knowing that the kingdom of God is near?
After all, you know that…
…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.