But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

2nd Sunday in Advent – 2023

Luke 21:5-36

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus tells his disciples about the future. And I’m sure that they are listening very attentively.

There is a built-in curiosity in all of us about what the future holds. This arises in part because of the innate sinful desire that we all have – inherited from our first parents – to want to be “like God.”

To know the future, is to be like God. And to know the future, is to be able to control the future. Or at least that’s the hope, if not the reality.

This yearning to know what is yet to come is why people often take a look at their daily horoscope in the newspaper, and it’s why they read what’s written on those little slips of paper in their fortune cookies at the Chinese restaurant.

People who are more serious about trying to find out about the future might go further than this. They might consult a fortune teller, or an astrologer.

Now, God’s Word forbids his people to do this. And the Lord’s disciples, as pious Jews, would have obeyed this prohibition. Unlike the pagans – who did consult oracles and fortune tellers, without any scruples against doing so – the disciples’ curiosity about the future would therefore usually go unsatisfied.

But now, as Jesus is willing to tell them what the future holds, they are listening with rapt attention. Now their curiosity can be satisfied after all!

They were, of course, hoping to hear something good about their future. In the same way, those who go to fortune tellers don’t want to hear about impending tragedies.

The people who write the messages for fortune cookies know that, too. Have you ever read a fortune in a Chinese restaurant that told you of coming evil or failure in your life?

People don’t want to hear about such things. We can assume that the disciples didn’t want to hear about such things either, as they listened to Jesus begin his discourse.

But when you open yourself up to hear about the future from someone who really does know what will come to pass – someone like Jesus – you take the risk of hearing things you don’t want to hear. You take the risk of hearing about sad occurrences and destructive events that you will not enjoy at all.

Because of the sin that infests this world, and that corrupts the people in this world, your future – if you are able to know what it will be – will not be a completely good future. Because of the devil’s constant efforts to turn the affairs of human history toward humanity’s destruction, the future – for all of us – will in fact often be characterized by much pain, suffering, and hardship.

And that’s what the disciples of the Lord find out when Jesus tells them what is going to happen in the coming decades – to them, to the church, and to the city of Jerusalem.

Today’s appointed Gospel reading begins quoting from Jesus partway through his discourse with his disciples. In the verses that preceded the section from which we read, the Lord, as he looked to the future, saw and described religious deceptions, and the intrusion of religious error:

“Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time has drawn near.’ Therefore do not go after them.”

Jesus saw and described religious divisions, and troubling religious persecutions:

“They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. … You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake.”

And Jesus saw and described natural catastrophes and political upheavals:

“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.”

“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.”

“There will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles…”

Indeed, in the year 70 A.D. a Roman legion under the command of Titus Flavius did brutally crush a Jewish revolt against Roman rule that had been stirred up by the Zealots. And in this Roman victory, as a punishment against Jerusalem and the Jews in general, the city and everything in it – including the temple – were destroyed.

Can you imagine how the disciples’ eyes would have been gradually opening wider and wider, as Jesus continued to speak these frightening words to them? This is not what they wanted to hear.

This is not the kind of future they would have expected God to plan out for them. They may very well have regretted asking Jesus to tell them what was to come. Perhaps they would have been better off not knowing these things.

And of course, that’s the way it is for us, in regard to our future. We’re not able to ask Jesus face-to-face what will happen to us in the future.

And so we don’t know. But if we are able to get past our wishful thinking regarding the future, we could probably make some educated guesses about how things might go, on the basis of the Lord’s teaching about how life in this world in general usually goes.

If the original disciples were persecuted by hardened unbelievers for the sake of Christ’s name, then we too – who also bear that name – can expect persecution. If the climate and tectonics of the earth were destructively active in the days of the Lord’s original followers, and if we live on the same planet as they did, we should not be surprised if the same sort of storms and earthquakes happen now.

If the sinfulness of the human heart inspired men and nations in the apostles’ time to stir up political turmoil and violence, and if human nature is just as bad now as it was then, then we can expect this kind of turmoil and violence in our day as well.

And just in case ours is the last generation, in today’s text Jesus also looks much further ahead, and predicts what that last generation will experience when the world, as we know it, comes to an end. He says:

“And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

Some people have the idea that if they believe in God, and pray, and go to church, then their future will be bright and happy; God will solve all their problems; and they will be protected from all hardships. But Jesus never promised this to those who serve and follow him.

In fact, he promised just the opposite. As quoted in St. John’s Gospel, He said:

“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

As far as your future on earth in concerned, this, my friends, is what you should expect. When things unexpectedly go well for you in earthly matters, and when you do prosper and succeed, then you should be thankful for God’s special grace, and for his special intervention in preventing the forces of sin and evil from wrecking your plans, and ruining your accomplishments, as they would want to do.

But when things don’t go well for you in the affairs of this world, it shouldn’t surprise you. Hardship for God’s people, and trials and tribulations, are the norm, not the exception.

If God has allowed us, in our free and relatively stable country, to experience exceptional happiness, that should not cause us to forget that it is indeed exceptional.

There are many Christians today, living under various forms of oppression, who are experiencing – right now – the kinds of things that Jesus was talking about. And the time may come when we, too, will begin to taste more of the kind of suffering in this life that Jesus tells us we should actually expect.

To one degree or another, and in one way or another, our future in this world, and the church’s future in this world, will include pain and hardship, trials and disappointments, mistreatment and oppression.

But that’s not all that our future holds for us. When Jesus told his disciples, “you will be hated by all for My name’s sake,” and “they will put some of you to death,” he also added these words: “But not a hair of your head shall be lost.”

And when Jesus described the end of the world, with all the upheavals associated with it, he concluded with this:

“Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

And so, while it is true that trials and hardships are in your future, what is more important is that Jesus is in your future. You are a child of God who trusts in the Word of Christ, and who lives in Christ. Nothing that you will face, therefore, will be faced without Christ.

As Jesus promises, even if physical suffering and death may be your fate in this world; as far as your relationship with God is concerned, “not a hair of your head shall be lost.”

When everything around you is burned away like chaff, and the world itself is coming to an end, “look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

The reason why we can have confidence that Jesus will be in our future, with his protection and redemption, is because he is with us now, in the present, with his protection and redemption. And he is with us with his promise that he will never leave us or forsake us.

Psalm 121 comforts us with these words:

“The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.”

In Christ, your “going out” – your moving forward into the future – will be in the confidence of faith: a faith in God’s forgiving and renewing grace, and a faith in God’s fatherly kindness toward his children.

The world that you will face in the future will be a world that hates you. That is true. But you will not face that world in the paralysis of fear and uncertainty, because you will face it in union with a God who loves you in Christ.

And the love of God is stronger that the hatred of the world. The love of God, as it carries you into the future, and as it carries you through all the difficulties that you will face in the future, is an eternal love.

It is a love from which nothing can separate you, as you abide in the Word of Christ, and as you walk, with a clear conscience, by the Spirit of Christ.

Do you want to know what the future holds for you? Probably you are curious. Most people are. But in the final analysis, you can’t really know very much about the future.

But when you know now, in faith, that your sins are forgiven through the cross of Christ; and when you know now, that Jesus rose from the grave for you; you can know that Jesus Christ is in your future.

He is in your future on earth, as your companion and shepherd in the midst of all the struggles you will face. And he is in your eternal future, in the joy of the everlasting life that he has promised to those who believe in him.

And while you cannot know very much about your future, God does know all about your future. And he declares to you through the Prophet Jeremiah:

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me.” Amen.