Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 21:5–21:28
The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
November 16-17, 2019
“Straighten up!” How many times have parents said this to children? We can understand that parental command, often said in a low but very authoritative voice, to mean quit messing around and pay attention; do what you’re supposed to do. But we can also understand that parental command to literally straighten up; quit slouching! Such is the case with Jeremy Duncan, central character in “Zits.” “Zits is a comic strip written by cartoonist Jerry Scott and illustrated by Jim Borgman about the life of Jeremy Duncan, a 16-year-old high school sophomore… The comic debuted in July 1997 in over 200 newspapers and has since become popular worldwide and received multiple awards. As of 2010, it… is now included in more than 1,700 newspapers worldwide in 45 countries and is translated into 15 different languages. Set in central Ohio suburbia, the strip centers on Jeremy as he tries to balance his family life, social life, the academic demands of high school and his plans for the future, often with a heavy dose of surrealism, making it stand out from being just a typical teenager cartoon strip” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zits_(comics). In the closing verse of today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says this: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 5:28). This becomes the theme for preaching under the theme, “Straighten Up!” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus’ sake.
When we are feeling strong and confident, this is often reflected in how we carry ourselves. Our body language shows this: we tend to stand taller and walk with purpose. Conversely, when we are feeling weak and uncertain, this is also reflected in how we carry ourselves. We tend to slump our shoulders and sort of shuffle along. There are lots of things in Jesus’ words today that might make us feel weak and uncertain: wars and tumults (Luke 21:9); great earthquakes, famines, and pestilences (Luke 21:11); persecution and imprisonment (Luke 21:12); cosmic signs that cause people to faint with fear and foreboding for what is coming on the world (Luke 21:26). When the world is literally falling apart and all seems to be lost, Jesus calls on his children not to slump our shoulders and just shuffle along. He calls us to straighten up. Jesus calls us to lift up our heads because our redemption is close at hand. Jesus provides us with wisdom for living in the last days that precede his coming again.
There was a partial fulfillment of Jesus’ words that occurred in 70 A.D. with the fall of Jerusalem. Under the Roman general Titus, the city and the magnificent temple were destroyed. Prior to its destruction, there was a time of great suffering as the city was besieged, causing unimaginable hardship, hunger, and disease. Followers of Jesus were indeed persecuted for his name’s sake and brought before kings and governors. Before and after the fall of Jerusalem, there was imprisonment and even death for some. But the complete fulfillment of Jesus’ prophetic words is yet to be. We are still waiting for those awesome and terrible signs in sun and moon and stars, as well as the sea and waves, yet to be revealed. When that happens, all of our human ingenuity and resourcefulness will fail us. All of our contingency plans will fall by the wayside. The end will be upon us and we will then see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 5:27). How then are we to live?
Last month, Dutch police found a 58-year-old man and six young adult members of a family, unrelated to the man, hidden in the basement of a remote farmhouse in the Netherlands where they had reportedly spent years “waiting for the end of time.” Local media said they were found after one of the young adult siblings went to a nearby pub in a confused state, drank five beers and then asked for help, saying he had not been outside for nine years. Some of those freed ‘had no idea that other people existed,’ the local Dutch news station reported. The police discovered a hidden staircase behind a cupboard leading to a cellar where the group was hiding. They had no contact with the outside world and were completely self-reliant (https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/dutch-family-found-in-cellar-waiting-for-end-of-time/ar-AAIOVHt). Certainly, this is extreme, but it is an example of how we are not to live as we wait and watch for the Lord’s coming. We are not to wall ourselves off from the world, living in fear and isolation. Rather, trusting that the Lord Jesus who shed his blood on the cross for us, who rose in triumph over death and the grave for us, is also coming again for us. He calls us to live in this world in such a way that we may always be ready to leave it. He calls us to turn away from sin and turn to him with repentant hearts. He calls us to do on earth those things which prepare us for heaven. He calls us to love and serve one another as he has loved and served us that we may “… not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13).
The final verses of the Old Testament are found in today’s Old Testament lesson (Malachi 4:1-6). They speak of that day as a consuming fire that will destroy all evil and all evildoers. That is a fearful thing, but for the child of God, this is cause for rejoicing: “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2a). Jesus is that Sun of Righteousness who calls us to love and fear his name – fear not in the sense of terror, but a holy awe and reverence for that name which is above every name (Philippians 2:10). “For there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). In the hustle and bustle of daily life when we are occupied with many different things, the last thing that we may think about is that great and final day when Jesus will come again. In the midst of all of our comings and goings in life, Jesus reminds his followers that even though we live in this world, we are really not of this world (John 17:14, 16). “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior , the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).
Knowing all these things, people of God, straighten up! When the world around us goes from bad to worse, when creation itself is collapsing, when there is fear and foreboding, lift up your heads! In Christ who loves us and laid down his life for us, we know how the story ends. Death and destruction are not the final word. We await a new heaven and new earth where righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13), and all of that will be revealed when Christ comes again. And so we pray: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20b). Amen.