Summary: We should always live our lives with the end in view.
A Sermon Based Upon Luke 21: 25-36
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
First Sunday of Advent, December 2, 2012
“Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory”. (v. 27)
Clouds aren’t what they used to be. Today we don’t just talk about “clouds” in the sky but we also speak about ‘iclouds’. These “iclouds” are those places in cyberspace where you can store personal information about yourself, your work, your music or your movies, all safely stored away somewhere out there in appledom (who invented the icloud), where it will be protected from any evil, earthly virus that makes your computer come crashing down. It can also store all your stuff until you want to download it to a new computer, cell-phone, or laptop. No matter where you are or when you need it you can access all your stuff. One major concern about all the gathering information in cyberspace is that we will die, but all that “cyberstuff” will live on in an “cloud” until somebody finds it and pushes “delete”. All your stuff survives, even when its owners don’t.
Our text for this Advent also speaks of a “cloud”. The picture Jesus gives us is not about a computer that comes crashing down, but of a world that comes crashing down. The only thing that survives and brings any hope is that the “Son of Man” will survive and come “in a cloud with great power and glory”. When the world crumbles so that “one stone is not left upon another; and all is thrown down” and when even the “heavens will be shaken” the only power and glory remaining comes from this “cloud” which holds all human hope for redemption. Of course, all this “cloud” talk, is metaphoric “end of the world” talk. It’s strange talk, but it’s true. Like the advent of “iclouds” or “Son of Man clouds”, the truth can be stranger than fiction.
THE END THAT ALREADY CAME
When Jesus speaks about the “Son of Man coming in a cloud” he is talking apocalyptic. He is talking about an an “end” that has already come to “his world”. The clues about all this are all around in this mysterious text. When Jesus says, “not one stone will be left upon another”, he is speaking specifically about the destruction of the temple. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans about 40 years, less than one generation after Jesus saw it coming. “This generation will not pass away, until this is fulfilled”. That is exactly how it happened. Another clue of how all this happened then comes when Jesus says, “but before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you…” This is also exactly what happened. By the time Luke’s gospel was written, all kinds of Christians had been arrested, persecuted and killed. Stephen was stoned. James was shot with an arrow. Peter was hung upside down. Paul was beheaded…and the list goes on. The whole history of the early church is filled with the blood of the martyrs which became the seed of the church. “You will be hated by all, but not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls” (v. 18-19). Many who followed Jesus died. But the church didn’t die, nor did the church lose its soul. With the promised and predicted persecution, the church only got stronger and stronger, and grew more and more. This is one of the true “wonders” of the ancient world; how the church was built around a crucified, defeated Jesus, who was worshipped by a people who were constantly hated, attacked, ridiculed and even killed for their faith. It sounds impossible that the message or mission of the church could have survived, but it did.
Another clue we have about Jesus’ mysterious words is that he told his listeners “when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you’ll know…..” (vs. 20). He’s speaking directly about the Roman invasion of Jerusalem in 70 AD which gave us Masada and the diaspora---the tragic death of the last hold Jewish hold-outs, and the scattering of the Jewish people over the whole earth, so that they became a people without a country. The descriptions Jesus gave are utterly realistic of war, invasion and the chaos that follows: “Those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it….for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment…. Woe to those who are pregnant….there will be great distress….they will fall by the edge of the sword…they will be taken away captive among all nations….(remember two will be a mill, and one will be taken, the other left). Those who live and die will be random and unpredictable. It will all seem so meaningless, but this is what will happen when “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles….until the time of the Gentiles will be fulfilled” (v. 24).