In our sermon series on the earthly life of Jesus, we’ve come to the events of Holy Week. As we said last week, in the actual Holy Week, we tend to go right from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday. We skip over the events of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
There are a couple of reasons we do that. One is just the lack of time. There’s a lot of stuff that happened in that time frame, and even with extra services there’s only so much of it we have time to talk about.
But I think there’s another reason we tend to skip over these things. See, at this point, Jesus knows his time is getting very short. He knows he only has a few days left to tell people everything they need to know. And so, as you may have already noticed in recent sermons, Jesus’ tone becomes a lot more serious. He’s talking about real life and death matters. And not just earthly life and death. He’s talking about eternal life and death matters.
And what Jesus says about those things sometimes makes us uncomfortable. Today, for example, Jesus is talking about the end times. He’s talking about Christians being persecuted for their faith. He’s talking about Christians being betrayed by their families and their closest friends. He talks about a time of punishment, when all kinds of disasters are going to happen.
Quite frankly, a lot of times, we’d rather not deal with that. And I fall into that trap, too. It’s a lot easier to hear about God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes will not perish but will have everlasting life. It’s a lot easier to hear about how God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him. It’s a lot easier to hear about how the two greatest commandments are to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor as yourself. And to be honest, it’s a lot easier to preach those things, too.
But that’s a trap. And we fall into it at our peril. Now don’t get me wrong. All those things I just mentioned are very important. We need to hear those things sometimes, and I need to preach them sometimes. But we cannot just stop there. When Jesus said the things we read from Luke Twenty-one, he was not talking to himself. He was not talking just to make noise. In fact, this is the last long speech of Jesus’ that Luke records. This was one of Jesus’ last chances to tell the disciples, and us, things we need to know about what’s going to come before the end. So I think it’s really important that we hear and pay attention to what Jesus had to say.
You already heard it, but let me repeat a few of his words. “Many will come in my name, claiming ‘I am he’ and ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.” “Nation will rise against nation...There will be great earthquakes, famines, and pestilences.” “They will lay hands on you and persecute you.” “There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations.”
It’s possible, of course, to hear or read those words and apply them to today. And some people do that. They believe that we’re in the end times now. If you believe that, I’m not going to argue with you. Your beliefs on that, either way, are your beliefs, and there’s no way to prove who might be right or wrong.
Jesus’ point, though, was not to say a specific time when the end times were going to come. In fact, he once said that even he did not know exactly when the end times would be, that only God the Father knew that. His point, though, was that it could happen any time. It could happen a hundred thousand years from now, but it could happen this year. Or this week. Or today. We don’t know. And because it could happen at any time, we need to always be ready. “Always be on the watch” is how Jesus put it. Be prepared at all times, so whenever the final judgment comes we’re ready for it.
Now, that does not mean that we should constantly be scanning the skies looking to see if Jesus is coming. But what it does mean is that we should live our lives with the awareness that Jesus could come at any time. And it means we should live our lives with the awareness of God working in and through us, leading us and guiding us. We need to live our lives with an awareness of God’s presence at all times and in everything we do.
And the way we can do that is to open ourselves up to God’s Holy Spirit. Truly open our hearts and open our souls to God. I know I’ve said that before, but it’s one thing to say the words and another thing to mean them, and it’s still another thing to put them into practice. I may say the words, but I fail at doing it many times. Maybe you do, too, I don’t know.
It can be hard for us live with that awareness of God in our lives. Jesus knew that. He knew why, too. Listen to what he says: “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.”
That word “dissipation” is one we don’t use much any more. In fact, I don’t know when the last time is that I have used it. But here’s what it means: it means squandering. Frittering away. Wasting. Misspending.
How many of us do that with our time? Squander it. Fritter it away. Waste it. Misspend it. Maybe you don’t, I don’t know. But if you don’t, I envy you. Because I do. That’s the trap. We think we have plenty of time. That each day, each hour, each minute, is not all that important. That we don’t have to think about God right now. We can do it later. There’s no hurry. We can get right with God some other time.
Maybe you and I do have plenty of time, but maybe we don’t. And that may have nothing to do with the end times. Even if the End Times are a long way off, each of us will have our own personal end time, when we leave this earth and face judgment. And none of us knows when that day will be.
Now, understand, I’m not saying we can never take any time to relax, that we can never get any rest. Even Jesus took some time to rest. We need to unplug once in a while, to recharge our batteries, to refresh ourselves. But even then, we should not just be frittering away our time. We should not be wasting it. Even in our relaxation time, we need to live with the awareness of God in our lives. We should not take a vacation from God. We should not take a vacation from being Christians.
Look at what else Jesus says can be a trap. We get weighed down with “the anxieties of life”. Boy, do we ever. We worry about all kinds of things, don’t we? And I’m not being critical of that. Life does have anxieties. We worry if we have enough money to pay our bills. We worry if we’ll keep our health. We worry if we’ll have and keep people in our lives who love us and care about us. We worry if we’ll find and keep jobs that give us some satisfaction. We worry about the people we care about, too, and whether they’ll have all these things.
Now to some extent that’s normal. None of those things is an unreasonable thing to be concerned about. But sometimes we get so concerned about the “anxieties of life” that we let God get crowded out. We stop living with that awareness of God in our lives. We don’t intend to. Sometimes we’re even praying to God. But we stop feeling that connection to God. We stop feeling God with us. We stop feeling God working with us. We stop trusting God to guide us and help us through life. Again, we don’t intend to. But we let these worries, these concerns, these “anxieties of life” get to us. We let them get in the way of our relationship with God. We let them get in the way of our ability to have faith in God and trust God.
As I said, Jesus knew this could happen to us. And he told us what to do about it. He put it into the context of being persecuted, but I think it applies to all of these things. And besides, let’s face it, when these anxieties, these concerns, these worries get the best of us, it feels like we’re being persecuted, right? Not in a physical sense, but in an emotional and psychological sense.
So here’s what Jesus said: “Make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict….Not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.”
If we trust in Jesus, you and I can avoid these traps. We can avoid the temptation to dissipate our time, to fritter it away. We can avoid the temptation to let the worries and concerns and anxieties of life get the best of us. We can rely on Jesus’ words. We can rely on Jesus’ wisdom. We can be aware of God’s Holy Spirit with us always, guiding us and helping us through life. We can live that awareness of the presence of God at all times.
So let’s do it. Let’s open our hearts and our souls to God. Let’s feel God’s Holy Spirit leading us through our lives. Then, we’ll be ready. Whether the End Times come or our own personal end time comes, we’ll be ready. We will stand firm. And we will win life.