First Mennonite Church
March 31, 2019
Stand Up and Raise Your Head
Text: Luke 21:25-36
Luke precedes the passion narratives with Jesus’ eschatological teaching. Eschatology is the study about the end of time. In dealing with this passage, I want to avoid the typical temptation there is when studying eschatological material—the attempt of answering the question “when.” Along the history of Christianity, there have been attempts by many to predict the end of the world. Here is the US various preachers have tried to predict the end of the world or the Lord’s second coming and have failed. Harold Camping was not the only one. The Baptist preacher, William Miller, predicted that the second coming Jesus Christ would occur before March 21, 1844. The Assemblies of God magazine The Evangel, speculated that the end would come no later than 1934 or 1935. But there were preachers of this kind even among Mennonites. In the very early stages of development of the Anabaptist movement in the sixteenth century, Jan Matthys and John Bockelson, claimed to be Enoch and Elijah, respectively, who would usher the New Jerusalem in 1533. And there was another Mennonite who made the similar prediction in late nineteenth century. Claass Epp Jr. predicted that Jesus Christ would come on March 8, 1889 and when it did not happen, he changed the date to 1891. After this date came and went also without the prediction happening, he increased his fanaticism by claiming to be the son of Jesus Christ—thus, as he said, he was the fourth person in the deity. That claimed proved to be too much for his followers to swallow and many left him.
The temptation of answering the “when” question is not a problem of only recent times. It was the problem the disciples of Jesus had. In verse 7, that was the first question the disciples asked Jesus, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the signs that this is about to take place?” As we will see, Jesus did not give a timeline of events, but a word of warning and encouragement on what to do. And that will be my emphases today—Stand up and raise up your heads.
In Luke’s account we are told that Jesus heard some speaking about the grandeur of the temple and precious gifts it housed. But then Jesus said to those around him, “You see all these, time will come when not one stone will be left on another.” But when he is asked by his disciple to tell them when this would happen, Jesus instead tells them what they should do. The disciples would risk being led astray by false teachers and prophet. They would face persecution, but Jesus assures them that the Spirit would empower them with wisdom on how to answer their enemies. All the signs Jesus gives anticipating his coming all sound imminent and foreboding. The signs are inescapable and are all scary. These signs seem to indicate a never-before-seen turmoil in the celestial bodies, the seas, and on the earth. These signs describe a world in chaos, where people faint in fear and where uncertainty keeps everyone apprehensive of what the future might hold. And although, Jesus says that the Kingdom of heaven would come before the generation of his time dies, here we are today and it has not yet happened. Many generations have come and gone after Jesus said these words.
Yet the signs of the world today seem as if that time has come closer. Even when I am avoiding the question of “when,” I cannot help but realize that to a great extent the condition of the world of today resembles very much the time Jesus says would anticipate his coming. Therefore, my attempt today is not to say that the Lord is coming, although that is a latent possibility. What I want to do is simply echo the word of warning and encouragement Jesus gave his disciples when those conditions arise.
Today, many national and world leaders, social science experts, scientists, activists, and religious leaders agree that the world of today is engulfed with a wide range of troubling conditions as never seen before. Whether or not we believe in climate change, the evidence of climate disruption is there before our very eyes. There is great distress in many nations and among nations of the world today. There are millions of displaced people due to wars and political instability in their countries. There are millions immigrating for the aforementioned reasons or for economic reasons. I myself am an immigrant. Fear is widespread. There are many reasons why people are afraid. When people are afraid and are fed with messages of fear, demagogues of all kinds arise. Fear is what causes people to not only be indifferent to others, but even to become aggressive as well. We know very well what fear does. When we are afraid, we cower, we seek cover, or flee. As for the disciples, Jesus knew they would soon be without him around. Jesus knew the disciples would soon have to face the world without him by their side. Jesus was about to be arrested and therefore he took the time to warn his beloved disciples. He wanted to give them a heads-up on what was to come upon the earth. He wanted to warn them as to what would happen to them. But most importantly, Jesus wanted to instruct them on what they should do when the world goes awry and its people come under the grip of fear. And, that, I believe is the message for us today. Jesus gave a word of warning and then gave a word of encouragement. His word of warning in verse eight is: “Beware that you are not led astray.” His word of encouragement in verse 28 is, “Stand up and raise you heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Typically, people see the world, and especially a chaotic and fear-filled world, through the lenses of “us vs. them.” By “us,” they mean those who share with them a common experience or worldview. Those referred to as “them” are those whose experience and worldview differently from the “us’s” perspective. But this kind of way of looking at the world only feeds more fear, alienation, and distrust. It is a vision of the world that at best leads to indifference and at worst to hatred. It is to us who live in such a world divided by “us vs. them” that the warning of Jesus is directed. The Lord Jesus pleads with us today, “Beware that you are not led astray.” The follower of Christ does not belong to the “us” or “them” group, because both groups nourish its group members with fear and hatred towards the other. Both groups see each other as the enemy. But we belong to Christ. And we are not or should not be afraid of what is happening. We know that our redemption is closer than the day we first believed. We are a people of hope, love, compassion, and are not afraid. What can men do to us?
Also, in this world filled with fear and anxiety we might get tired of the back and forth those who continue to fight the fight between “us vs. them.” Today, if you only watch the evening news, you will see how that fight plays out. We can become cynics of what his happening in the world of power. We can become discouraged if we place our hope in men and women to solve the problems. So it is to us that Jesus now addresses his words, “Stand up and raise you heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Stand up; reflect the hope you have in Christ. The only Lord we have is Jesus Christ. The only Savior we have is the one who gave his life for the world on the cross. Therefore, when your friends have nothing else to talk about than the troubles of the day or the latest battle in politics, or of the last epidemic spreading around, tell them that your hope is not founded on men’s ability to fix the world. Your hope is in Christ Jesus and that no matter whether the earth trembles and mankind faints at the prospects of the future, your hope is grounded on the promise of him who died, was raised, and will come again in glory. When people are walking with their shoulder hunched out of fatigue and hopelessness, stand up, raise your head. Speak words of life. Give comfort to the hopeless. Do not sit down to expound on the woes that seem to have the upper hand on everything. Stand up for the Lord. Raise your head as Jesus commands. The opposite of a head raised high is a head bowed down. In the Bible, references to head bowed down is synonymous to being embarrassed, ashamed, guilty, sad or sorrowing. And in Christ, we are neither of those. Paul says, “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
And again he says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 3:16)
Peter says that we who believe in the Lord “are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1Peter 1:8).
Therefore my dear brothers and sisters, as believers in the Lord, we cannot walk like those who do not believe, with their heads bowed down. Regardless of everything that is going on around us, let us remember that we are followers of Jesus the Lord and Savior. We are in the world but we are not of this world. As the apostle Paul writes to the Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” So let us, therefore, stand up and raise our heads up for our redemption is closer than the day we first believed. Amen!