15 March 2015

The Last Days...according to Jesus (Luke 17.20-37)

--> A sermon by Bob Mendelsohn Given at Cronulla (Sydney) Anglican Church
15 March 2015
BIBLE TEXT:
Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
And He said to the disciples, “The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. They will say to you, ‘Look there! Look here!’ Do not go away, and do not run after them. For just like the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day. But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house must not go down to take them out; and likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back.
Remember Lot’s wife.
Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.”
And answering they said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.” 

Thank you to Pastor Rich, for inviting me today and for assigning me this text from Luke 17. Seems you have been going through this book of the Bible in a series, and I'm glad to fit in today with a message I call "The Last Days according to Jesus." 

Who will win the election Saturday week? Who will win the Cricket World Cup? Will the Sharks have a go at the top of the table in League this year? No matter how many tealeaves you use, no matter how many mediums you consult, the content of today’s lesson and today’s text appears to highlight Jesus’ general antipathy toward attempts to engage in apocalyptic timetabling. Even so, today’s text will also clearly show both drama and destruction at the real apocalypse.
This week into our bookshop in Bondi Junction a man came who is a real believer. But he spent a significant time trying to convince me that since the Third Temple was yet to be rebuilt, that all Jews were not believing in Jesus, that a particular seal in Revelation or a symbolic event in the prophet Daniel had not happened…since all these cataclysmic events were yet future, that obviously Jesus was not set to return today. He had time; others still had time; there was plenty of time to get ready for the return of the Messiah.
It’s exactly that evaluation that prompted Yeshua to speak all these red-letter words in today’s text. No, He alleged, you don’t have time. No, when you think that everything is as it was and is as it will be, that’s when you need to look up. The end is in view. Your end is in view. The Kingdom is coming. The Bible says the end will come suddenly, like lightning, and unmistakably, like lightning.
Then there is another group of people who look at the future. These are they who watch the newspaper in one hand and read the Bible in the other hand and will tell you that ISIS is prophesied in that Bible passage, and the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 was predicted in another passage. They aver that the world is ending today or maybe tonight, and they have signs to prove it. Earthquakes and wars and rumors of wars. Tsunamis and volcanic blasts, the cyclone in Port Vila, Vanuatu, even sycamore trees in New York City. Jesus is coming back today at 2:30 pm.  They can prove it. But Jesus also has something to say to those people.
Look at verse 20: The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed.
The words here point to the process of trying to work out, by means of almost scientific observations, what is happening in connection with the coming of the kingdom of God, whether these observations take the form of looking for supernatural signs like blood moons or falling Temples, people who project truths from the present political situation, looking at the entrails of animals, examining the configuration of the stars, or some other form. One cannot discern when the kingdom of God will come by prognostication on the basis of the observation of raw data.
So Jesus negates both groups of sign observers, those who think it’s observable and those who think it will happen but not yet. Both evaluate end-times on the basis of signs. But there are two other groups we should mention. Give me a moment.
I remember the fabled story of the Italian peasant who looked up one day and saw Jesus returning in the clouds. He ran to the neighborhood parish and told the priest, “Look up, Father, Jesus is a-coming.” Sure enough the parish priest looked up and saw what the peasant told him, and they ran to the priest’s car, drove to the big city and told the bishop. “Look up, your excellency; Jesus is a-coming!” The bishop saw what they other saw, and they together went to the bishop’s car and drove straight to Rome. There they bypassed formalities and demanded an audience with the pope. The three men made it into the Vatican and into the pope’s chambers. “Holy Father, look up, Jesus is a-coming!” The men stood still as the pope ran to the window overlooking St Peter’s square, checked overhead and ran back into his office. They watched as he feverishly began writing note after letter after note. Finally, the bishop gathered the courage and said, “Holy Father, excuse me, what are you doing?” The pope looked up hurriedly and said, “Jesus is a-coming, look-a-busy!”
There are two other groups of people, with equally wrong responses to knowing the reality of the return of the Messiah: 1) you either become religious or 2) you dismiss the idea altogether. Those are both in view as well in our passage and in our 21st century world in Cronulla, in the Shire, in Sydney, and beyond. If Jesus is coming back, and you want to ‘be ready’ then religion seems to fill the bill for some, as is evidenced in the pope story of being busy. On the other hand, if Jesus is coming back and you don’t really care about Him, His Kingdom, or all that means, then you will carry on life as you know it, with its commensurate political considerations, footy contests, pub crawling, and work-a-day worldviews. Neither of those are what Jesus recommends.
Whatever your response to the reality of the parousia, the appearing again of the Lord Jesus, several things are clear.
1)            You will not know the day or the time, until it happens.
2)            You will not be able to withstand its consequences.
3)            You cannot affect its timing. It will be sudden.
4)            Your fate is already determined by your professions of faith

Today is the Ides of March, the day when Julius Caesar was killed in Rome around 40 BC. According to Plutarch, a seer had warned Caesar about the day and Julius dismissed the warning. When Caesar saw the seer approaching, Caesar shouted after him, “The Ides of March have come” implying that the seer’s words did not come to pass. The seer replied, “But they are not gone,” implying that the day was not over. Sure enough, moments later Caesar was stabbed to death. Dismissing the reality of warnings is not a good thing to do, whether it’s a red light on your car’s dashboard or a leaky faucet in the basement of the parish hall. The writer of Hebrews said, “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.” (12.25)
Warnings have their place, not for us to be academic about the timing of the warnings, but to listen and learn and change according to the measure of the warning. When a label on a box of cereal indicates that some peanuts are included, an anaphylaxic person, one with a peanut allergy, must take notice. If he doesn’t, it might spell death to him.
So Yeshua tells us in this passage that the end / beginning will be like two other eras in biblical and world history-- the time of Noah and the time of Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah. In each narrative, a person warns the planet about impending doom, people dismiss it as nonsense, go about their ordinary life as if nothing will ever change, and God sends judgment to the place, causing havoc, flood, fire, and destruction. Yeshua is teaching that if we also similarly dismiss the warnings He is giving us from heaven, then we have no confidence in being part of the Kingdom or community of God.
And God’s judgment comes with precision, so that one is taken and another left even though they handle similar trades or situations. The judgment of God is not about trades or economics; it’s about our relationship with the Almighty.
One more thing about the Kingdom, Jesus says, “it’s in the midst of you.” (17.21) It’s right there, and some of you will see it, and some will miss it. But whether you think it’s coming in 2018 or when the Sharks win the Premiership or if you think cataclysmic events have to take place, a Temple has to fall and rise, or Rome or ISIS has to be dismantled, the reality is that while we argue about futures, the King of the Kingdom is right there, and if we are in relationship to Him, the Kingdom has come. OF course, there will be a future and comprehensive, instantaneous and cataclysmic new world, but for now, while you wait for it, the King is already here. Submit to Him and be brought near to the Government of God. God’s realm is here. God’s son is here. God is here!
Theologically, we learn the phrase, “Now and not yet.” That means that the Kingdom is now, present in Yeshua, and not yet, but is coming soon, with clarity and precision, with power and drama, and when God fully establishes His authority and rule on the earth, no one will withstand it. That day is certainly coming. This day however, you can join the community of faith. There is a ‘now’ for you who are listening; there will be a ‘then’ as well. Don’t wait until ‘then’ to make the choices you should make ‘now’ in following Messiah.
Don’t look-a-busy.
Don’t dismiss this.
Jesus really is returning, and as dramatic as the flood of Noah and its commensurate destruction, as dramatic as the fire-and-brimstone of Sodom and Gomorrah and its commensurate destruction, even to Lot’s longing-to-return wife, so will the drama and destruction be at the return of Jesus. Be ready, choose well. Religion won’t cut it; dismissal won’t make it go away.
The question to you today is “What will you do with Jesus?”

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