He is Coming - Luke 21:25-38

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
He's making a list
And checking it twice;
He's gonna find out
Who's naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
You better watch out!
You better not cry
You better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

John Fredrick Coots and Haven Gillespie penned this American Christmas classic in 1934 and it became an instant hit. The name “Santa Claus” was taken from the Dutch pronunciation of St. Nicholas, Sinter Klaas. Saint Nicholas was the bishop of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) in the 4th century.  His parents died when he was young and left him with a large sum of money.  He was known for helping those who were poor, including surprising them with many secret gifts.  He was a godly man who expressed his love for Christ by giving to those in need.  His generosity was modeled after the love of Christ who gave to those who did not deserve it.

Paul writes of this love in Romans, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8) St. Nicholas (or Sinter Klaas) wanted to share this type of love so others could also experience the same type of undeserved love that he had when Christ died for him. 

There is no secret that Christmas has become commercialized and the true reason for the season has been watered down. The story of Santa Claus no longer means what it once did, but has been hijacked by our secular culture.  Many a parent has told their child to be good so that Santa would bring them a present. Santa is making a list and checking it twice, he is going to find out who is naughty and nice for Santa Claus is coming to town.  And yet I have never met a child who didn’t receive presents because of their bad behavior.  Parents tell their children to be good or else, but when they are not good, the “or else” never happens.  When children are trained to receive gifts from Santa Claus regardless of their behavior, they are being blinded to a future reality. And if they are well-behaved (at least during the Christmas season), they are trained that they can be good enough for goodness sakes. Santa Claus may be coming to town, but he is not the only one. 

Christmas is not about us being good, but God being good to us by sending his Son when we were naughty and not nice. Christmas is a reminder that God came as a man to redeem men, but also that he will come again, and we better watch out and I am telling you why: the Son of Man is coming to town.  Knowing that his death is approaching, Jesus offers one of his final warnings as he concludes the Olivet Discourse that final redemption is coming.

The Redemption is Coming

Luke 21:25-28,

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, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

Jesus says at the end of time that there will be visible signs in the sun and moon and stars.  Matthew is more specific in saying, ““Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (Matthew 24:29) Jesus uses similar language as the prophets, (Isaiah, Joel, Haggai) use when referring to the Day of the Lord.

The tone of the passage implies the helplessness of those facing a horrific natural disaster[1].  December 26th, 2004, a wall of water crashed into the coast killing 230,000 people across 14 countries in a matter of minutes.  In the face of the roaring of the seas and the waves, the people were fainting in fear and foreboding on what was coming.  For even the most experienced sea captain, the Tsunami was absolutely terrifying.  Captain Fernandes said, “In all my years as a sailor, this was my most awful experience.”[2] On the awesome and terrible Day of the Lord, the nations will fear of what is coming.  It will be visible and evident to all that something terrifying is coming. 

The nations will look to the sky and see the Son of Man riding on the clouds of heaven.  This is the same language Daniel uses when he says “one like a Son of Man.”  This Son of Man was coming down from Heaven with power and glory.  The fear of the nations was well grounded.  They should have been terrified.  The OT image confers that the Son of Man would have superhuman majesty and glory proving that he was divine.  And it should be noted that everyone hearing Jesus and reading this gospel would know that Jesus was referring here to Himself. 

The nations will be rightly distressed, but despair will not come to all. As the promise given through Daniel was given to a struggling and enslaved people, Jesus promised redemption to his saints in the midst of their despair. The nations may be blessed now, but they will weep while the disciples may suffer now, their redemption is near.  “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28) While the rest of the nation bows their head in fear and despair, God’s people will straighten up and raise their heads in victory.  
Beloved, hear the promise in that lies in this verse.  God has promised us redemption.  The coming of Christ as a babe in Bethlehem will lead to the cross and the grave, but he will overcome the grave.  And he promises that one day he will come and complete our salvation and we will live in a city no longer forsaken.  Listen how Jamie Barnes describes this hope in his song a City No Longer Forsaken,

How can we grow tired
When his return is nigh?
The skyline will burn bright again
Like a diadem on the crown of Christ /

A brand new name,
Straight from the mouth of God,
The orphaned ones now take
Through the waning years He preserves
His own In a City No Longer forsaken /

A brand new land
Tilled by his tender hand
the thorns and thistles break
From the desert sand the harvest comes
In a city no longer forsaken/

Unbend the road, the Savior rides!
Send up the signal high
Over the gravel waste, His highway runs
In a city no longer forsaken
Every door will be stained with
Salvation’s name In a City no Longer

Jesus promised that he will give us full redemption at his coming. The redemption will complete and final. He will fully reign in righteousness.

The Reign is Coming

            Jesus drives home his point by telling them a parable using the fig trees that surrounded them on the Mount of Olives. Verses 29-33,

And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Luke 21:29-33)

Fig Trees were known for their luscious fruit that would appear every summer however during the winter there would practically be no life at all. The trees were so barren during the winter that the life that would begin to appear in the spring would be clear and evident to all.  Jesus wanted the disciples to know that although life may seem bleak and barren now, the kingdom of life and righteousness is near. 

            Jesus has already mentioned several times throughout this gospel that the kingdom of God has come near.  Even his very first words recorded in his earthly ministry Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15). The kingdom of God is “already” and also “not yet.” Although we can experience the kingdom now through the Spirit, there is coming a future reign of a consummated kingdom.  We even see glimpses of this promise in that great Christmas Hymn, Joy to the World,

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his  blessings flow
 far as the curse is found,
 far as the curse is found,
 far as the curse is found.

The angels said to the shepherds, “And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11) There is great joy because the promise of the incarnation is that God will not only bring a spiritual kingdom through faith in Christ, but his reign will extend as far as the curse is found.  We are still experiencing the consequences of the fall, but one day God will establish his physical kingdom forever. The incarnation of Christ will always lead to the final physical reign of a consummated kingdom.

            Verse 32 is a very difficult verse to understand.  He is speaking about the Day of the Lord and he says, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.” (Luke 21:32) Now it is clear that the Day of the Lord hasn’t happen yet, but it appears that Jesus is saying that the generation who heard his words was going to see the end. This verse has brought widespread disagreement, so we cannot be 100% sure of its exact meaning, but I believe that the “this generation” Jesus mentions is that generation that sees the beginning of the end. In this view, those who see the beginning will see the end because the end will be sudden and quick. I think this fits the New Testament picture of the suddenness and the speed of the end mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 2 Peter 3. 

            We could debate the exact meaning, but do not mess the verse 33 which says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” This world is temporary, but the Word of God is not so what are you living for: the world or the word?

            This is a wonderful season of celebration and giving.  I love to give my children gifts and to see their faces light up when they receive things they love. That being said, we have to be careful to teach this physical world is only window to the future physical world. Our homes, our toys, and our bank accounts will one day be dust and rubble, but the Word of the Lord will stand forever.  Isaiah 40:6-8,

A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

Simple question, what is your supreme treasure: this world or His Word? If we focus more on His Word, we will one day get to experience a better world, one free from the curse.  A world where: No more sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; Christ comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.

The Repentant at His Coming

So how do we live with a focus on His Word more than on this world? Jesus says that we must be repentant. We live today under his reign and rule. 

“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. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 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.” And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him. (Luke 21:34-38)

Jesus warns us that the Day of the Lord will come upon all who dwell on the earth. And he specifically warns us to avoid 3 things: Dissipation, drunkenness, and the cares of this life. Jesus describes how the end will come, but now urges that people’s lives change as a result.

Dissipation is the gradual dissent into immoral living. It is the squandering of one’s money, life, and resources.  He warns people to watch out unless they gradually move further and further into sin.  If one is not careful, the current of this world will lead people to slide away from God.  We must actively pursue God or we may passively fall away from Him.

Drunkenness is an indication of a lack of self-control and a indicating that one is trying to live in carnality. The drunkard lives for today.  If you have ever known a drunk, they usually are only concern with the pleasures of today, ignoring the consequences of tomorrow.  1 Corinthians 15:32, “If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Drunkenness ignores the future resurrection.

Lastly, Jesus warns those who have an unhealthy worry and anxiety over this life.  We are all going to face difficult things in our lives. Life in a fallen world is hard, but we serve a sovereign and powerful God.  If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all how will he not with him graciously give us all things?  There is a type of worry and anxiety that proves that we are too focused on this life while ignoring the life to come.  Let us face our anxieties and our stresses, great and small, in light of the resurrection and the coming of the Son of Man who will bring us our redemption in His consummated earthly reign.

How do we overcome these things? We stay awake by praying for God’s strength. We are not called to be passive in our pursuit of God. The times in my life when I have been tempted with dissipation, carnality, and excessive anxiety parallel the times when my prayer life struggled.  When we are actively pursuing God in prayer, pleading for this strength, leaning on his grace, our focus is fixed on the future hope we have in Christ.

Jesus says that we need strength to stand before the Son of Man. The Son of Man is coming to town, will you be able to stand? The only way we will be able to stand is if we are already standing on Christ the solid rock, for all other ground is sinking sand.  Only those who live repentant lives prove they are standing with Christ. 

St. Nicolas, bishop of Asia Minor was imprisoned by Emperor Diocletian in AD 303.  The records note, “as he [Nicholas] was the chief priest of the Christians of this town and preached the truths of faith with a holy liberty, Nicholas was seized by the magistrates, tortured, then chained and thrown into prison with many other Christians.[3]” James Parker said, 

Those who survived Diocletian's purges were called "confessors" because they wouldn't renege on their confession of Jesus as Lord. When Bishop Nicholas walked out of the prison, the crowds called to him: "Nicholas! Confessor!" He had been repeatedly beaten until he was raw, and his body was the color of vermilion. Bishop Nicholas was also said to have intervened on behalf of unjustly charged prisoners. 

St. Nicholas was able to stand before the Son of Man because he would not deny his confession of Christ. He did not deny with his words or with his life.

            Beloved, this season let us live like the real ” Santa Claus” who knew that the Son of Man was coming and, therefore, lived in generosity and faith confessing the gospel of Christmas.

[1] Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke: 9:51–24:53 (Vol. 2). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. Luke 21:26
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