Christmas Cheer facing the Coming Destruction (Luke 21:5-24)

            Christmas is the season of joy and happiness. It is a season of laughter and celebration.  This past Wednesday I was in the CAB and I was looking at the Christmas decorations and I was thinking about the different Christmas celebrations that our church has had over the last several weeks: Sunday School Parties, Choir Party, WMU Celebrations, and 60’s Club. And as I was thinking of all these wonderful celebrations, the title of today’s sermon flashed across my mind: The Coming Destruction.  Ah yes, “The Coming Destruction” sure to bring in the Christmas Cheer. 

            I am well aware of the irony of today’s message in face of this joyous season, but I promise that you that through this passage, you will be able to see the true reason behind all our various Christmas celebrations.   In today’s passage Jesus is in his last days and this is one of his last sermons known as the Olivet Discourse because of the location of the message.  Although Luke does not mention any specific location, we know from Matthew and Mark that this sermon begins outside of the Temple and finishes at the Mount of Olives. Jesus is close to completing the very purpose of his incarnation: to seek and to save the lost through his death and resurrection.  And as his death is only days away, Jesus gives a picture of the coming destruction.

The Coming Destruction of the Temple

Park Baptist Church has one of the most beautiful buildings in Rock Hill.  This building took a tremendous amount of sacrifice of both time and money to become a reality. There is something special about this sanctuary.  I have talked to many people who have come back to Park for funerals or special services and feel at home here in this space because they had spent so much time here.  Some of us are new to this space, but for many, this place is associated with the presence of Almighty God.  This was how Jews viewed the temple.  Verse 5,

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.” (Luke 21:5-6)

As some of the people were admiring the beauty of the building and the sacrifice it took to complete, Jesus said that the temple, the dwelling place of God, was going to be completely destroyed. He warned that the days are coming when the physical temple is going to be destroyed. 

A little while later some of the disciples came to Jesus privately and asked him to give them a timetable of the coming destruction. Verse 7-9,

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 21:7-9)

This discourse is full of warnings and encouragements. The first warning we see in the passage is for the disciples to not be led astray by false prophets.  There were going to be several false prophets who were claiming that the end was at hand and that they were the Messiah. The warning is very clear not to follow them.  And after Jesus’ warning, he gives an encouragement for them not to be afraid.

Jesus says that they are going to hear of wars and societal unrest, but that these things should not take them by surprise.  The chaos of the world is not outside God’s plan, but Jesus said that these things must take place.  Beloved, God is not surprised by the chaos in our society. He is not surprised by racial tensions, rampant promiscuity, the attack on traditional marriage, childrens’ disrespect for authority, or extreme Islamic jihad terrorists.  Do not think for one second that God is not sovereign over everything in this life. God is in complete control. Psalm 97:1, “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice.”

The future does not look bright for Christians in America.  It seems like the Christian worldview is under attack at every turn, but here the Apostle Peter,

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:12-14)

Do not be afraid. Awful things are going to happen, but we must rejoice insofar as we share in Christ’s suffering. We must rejoice and be glad that through our suffering His glory will be revealed.

The Coming Destruction of Peace

How one interprets this Olivet discourse will dramatically shape your view of the end times.  In this sermon, is Jesus referring to a specific event? Is he giving examples of a types of the events that will make up the last days? Or is he doing a little bit of both?

Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. 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. (Luke 21:10-15)

This passage does have a very near fulfillment for the apostles.  Peter and John were part of this private conversation and we know that they were brought in front of the ruling elders because they were teaching in the name of Jesus Christ.  They were arrested for his name’s sake.  There is an immediate fulfilment, but we also see this passage fulfilled through disciples that were part of this conversation including Stephen and the Apostle Paul and other great saints throughout history, Polycarp, Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and Jon Chrysostom.

The disciples were going to face intense persecution, but notice how Jesus frames this persecution, “This will be your opportunity to bear witness.” Jesus says this is your opportunity and your privilege to witness for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ.  American Christians are very weak. We are so afraid of people judging us for our faith and for shutting us out of the public square.  We are concerned with the government restricting our privileges, but our persecutions give us an opportunity to bear witness for the name of Christ.  We should not fear when we are brought before the earthly authority, for we will receive help from our heavenly authority through the Holy Spirit.

Mack Stiles shared a story at the Desiring God pastors’ conference last year about a couple who works with him in the Middle East, Una and Nestron. They were arrested at the airport in Iran and interrogated by the secret police.  Una said that the hardest thing he has ever had to do is to watch his wife be interrogated, but he was so proud that she was bold for the gospel.  Una said that before his interrogator would come in he would be absolutely terrified, but when he came into the room he would feel a surge of the Holy Spirit and remember verses and feel a spirit of boldness come upon him.  After the interrogator would leave, he would feel exhausted and undone.  Una said that the power was so strong that he got to a point he did not want his interrogator to leave.  God promises to give divine power in those moments so we can bear witness for His name sake. 

And yet, the promise of bearing witness does not always mean earthly success.  Jesus warns his disciples in verses 16-17, “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.” Some of the disciples will be turned in by their own parents and families and some will die.  Una and Nestron were interrogated by the Iranian secret police, but their pastor, Pastor Haik, the one who baptized Una, was arrested at the same place and in same way was murdered by the same secret police.  None of us are promised earthly comfort.  There may be some of the people in this room who will give their life for the gospel of Jesus Christ. There may even be some of our own children who will pay the ultimate sacrifice for the gospel.

I want you to listen to verses 16-17 again, but I want you to hear them in light of the following two verses,

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 21:16-19)

Some of you will be put to death, but not a hair of your head will perish.  We will not perish because Jesus Christ came to seek and to save the lost.  Jesus Christ came to rescue us.  Jesus put on flesh so that he could save our flesh.  Jesus came as a man to redeem men.  Isaiah 9:2; 6,

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2,6)

We were in deep darkness, so to us a son was given, for us a child was born. Destruction was coming, but God gave us a Savior.

The Coming Destruction of Jerusalem

The Bible says there is a coming destruction for everyone who does not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Jesus said early in Luke,

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:4-5)

God sent Jesus to rescue us, but if we deny him, he gives us a picture of what the coming destruction will look like at the end of this discourse.

            As you listen to these last few verses, I pray you will rejoice for true reason for our Christmas celebration, verse 20-24,

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

This is a fuller description of the destruction that will befall Jerusalem that Jesus earlier mentioned in Luke 19:41-44.  There Jesus gives reason for this destruction was because they did not know the time of the visitation of the Messiah, in other words, the rejected Jesus.

            In AD 70, Titus led the Roman army in a siege of Jerusalem.  They surrounded the city not allowing anyone to leave or any food to go in.  Eusebius documented that starvation was so extreme that even children were killed and eaten.  It was absolutely horrific the terror and destruction that befell the holy city of Jerusalem.  Jesus predicted that Jerusalem was going to fall and it did. And God is not surprised by this, but brings the days of vengeance to fulfill all that is written.  Judgment is promised for anyone who does not believe in Jesus Christ, but salvation is offered to everyone for whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. 

            And yet Jesus was not only warning people about the coming destruction to Jerusalem, but was offering destruction of Jerusalem as an example of the type of the destruction that was going to come at the end final Day of the Lord. And Jerusalem’s destruction will not be complete and final.  The end of verse 24 says, “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” This implies that Jerusalem will one day be restored.  Their destruction is only temporary.

God is going to use Israel’s rejection of Jesus to bring the Gentiles into the faith.  Paul writes in Romans 11:25, “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25) Israel hardened their heart against Jesus so God could graft the Gentiles into the vine, but notice that there is this allusion that one day Israel will also be restored when the time of the Gentiles will be complete.  There is only one people of God; the people of the promise who all come in by through faith in Christ.

This may confuse us, but it should cause our hearts to rejoice in God’s sovereign wisdom and mercy. Paul ends Romans 11 this way,

For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:29-36)

God is not surprised by trials, but rather he plans them. He is not surprised by Israel’s rejection, but planned it.  God is completely sovereign over all history.  Who has known the mind of God? His wisdom is unfathomable and his judgments are unsearchable.

            And this sovereign plan is the reason we celebrate at Christmas.  We deserve death because we have lived in disobedience serving our flesh. And even though we deserve death, God came to redeem our flesh.  He came to give us new life.  So although “the coming destruction” may not sound like it brings Christmas Cheer, the birth of Christ makes it possible for us to avoid the coming destruction through the second birth.  Let me take a moment to read one of my favorite Christian hymns and see why God’s sovereign plan of redemption should cause us to glory in our newborn King.

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”

Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Christ, by highest Heav’n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.

Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth
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