Hope in a troubled World
Last week if you were here, we talked about something that is largely hidden yet a massive problem in our society, that is, the problem of domestic violence.
I shared with you some biblical reflection on how we can approach the issue, with my two main points being that we should grieve over the issue and care about the restoration of those who have suffered and lost much.
Now caring for people like this is what we are called to do, but the problem is, the more we care, the more we begin to feel the weight of the whole world.
Last week I shared about the size of the problem of domestic violence. The problem is, this is only the start of the world’s problems.
This week I attended a P&C meeting at the local school. On the agenda was a discussion on the school policy regarding poor student behaviour. While we didn’t talk about specific children, there is a correlation between poor behaviour and brokenness within the family.
The sad reality is that far too many kids come from these broken families. While not all of them suffer from the really bad behaviour, it does affect them. I see this a lot with many of the youth that come to youth group.
This has often proved a dilemma for us. You see, all too often the ones that caused the most dramas for me, and hence the ones you would like to prevent from coming, are the ones that most need our care.
But let’s also shift our gaze beyond just our own community. Throughout the world, there are many armed conflicts going on.
I saw a list this week of documented conflicts throughout the world. On the list where 60 different conflicts where at least one reported death has been recorded.
In one third of those conflicts, the death toll has exceeded 1000 people in the last year alone. And in five of those conflicts, the death toll has exceeded 10,000 in just the last year.
The vast majority of these conflicts we almost never hear anything about them. But it is having real impacts. People are fleeing because it is not safe. And so the world has a crippling refugee crisis.
We all want a better world. We cry out for world peace. And our hearts break for the brokenness within many of our own families.
But what hope is there?
As adults, I think many of us have given up on praying for world peace. We know it just isn’t possible.
And while we might pray for the broken families, do we actually think things are going to change. In individual cases we might see the situation change for the better, but when we recognise just how many broken families are out there, is there really any hope?
How to respond
How to respond
I believe this is a problem that will plague anyone who cares to take the time to look at the world. For many who look at this problem they will throw themselves into various forms of activism. Now don’t get me wrong, that is very admirable and to be commended, but the reality is, for some of these big problems I’ve just mentioned, it can be a bit like throwing a bucket of water onto a bushfire.
For many others, as we look into it we will just be overcome with despair.
But I suspect that it is for this reason that what tends to happen is we snuff out that despair by ignoring the problem. After all, if we can pretend the world is a nice happy place then we don’t have to worry about any of it.
But are any of these responses adequate?
A Biblical Response
A Biblical Response
Well, let’s look at the bible and see what it has to say on the matter.
What we find is that the Bible is actually no stranger to a messed up world. In fact, it will tell us where it all began - right back in !
In we witness sin entering the world, and from there is only blossomed.
But God had a plan, and that essentially is the story of the Bible.
Now you could ask - but why doesn’t God just put a stop to it all?
Well, actually he did. You might remember a particular story involving a man building an ark.
You see, if we really want to wipe out the problems I just mentioned, the only really way to do it would be to wipe humanity off the face of the earth - but God graciously has promised that he won’t do it like that again - giving us the rainbow as a reminder.
You see, God could promise that because he had something better in mind. Something that meant that humanity could actually be redeemed, and that was a plan that right at the centre of it all was Jesus.
But then there seems to be a problem. You see, we know that Jesus came and went 2000 years ago. We know that in that time he did some pretty amazing things - most prominently dying and rising to life again - but the problem is, the world is still in a mess!
So what happened? Did he not do a good enough job?
Well I can tell you that he did do a good enough job. His sacrifice was sufficient for all humanity and for all time.
Now I believe in theory God could have brought matters to a conclusion back then. That is, make a final separation between good and evil and inaugurate a new age in which this separation is permanent.
But he didn’t, and there is evidence in the bible that the reason he didn’t is because, in His patience, he wants to draw more people to himself.
But what he has done is provide an opportunity for us to cling to him, prior to the day in which Jesus Christ will consummate his victory in a brilliant (yet dare-I-say-it, terrifying) day when that new age is inaugurated.
And so we live in these ‘last days’. The days in which Jesus has set up the victory but is yet to claim the full affects of it.
What we find is that the Bible actually has quite a bit to say about these last days. Things like, what to expect, what people will be like, what sort of world affairs will happen.
But there needs to be a little caution with this. Before I give the caution, I will recognise that there are variety of different view points when it comes to understanding the last days and quite possibly you won’t all agree with me - and that’s ok.
But my caution is this - when you investigate the Bible’s description of the ‘last days’, try to avoid the temptation to make it into a timetable for the return of Christ.
Firstly, that’s because when the biblical authors use the phrase ‘last days’ it usually refers to the entire time between the first and second coming of Christ, not just the time immediately preceding his return.
But even when Biblical authors do have in picture the actual return of Christ, the picture is sufficiently vague as to prevent an accurate timetable.
Besides on numerous occasions Jesus warned that the final day will come like a thief in the night when no one knows.
So always be cautious if ever people start getting too precise about when Jesus will return. Yes events are happening that we know will happen before his return, but we are still none the wiser about when that will be.
Well, with that, I want to turn to and in particular verses 25 to 36. But before we explore those verses, it is worth exploring how this fits into the bigger picture.
Now , along with the parallel passages in and , is a passage that a number of Christians have keenly followed.
That’s because, within this chapter, we get to see clues about when Jesus will return.
But as much as we love jumping to this chapter, it is worth looking a bit closer than we sometimes do. I believe as we do, we will indeed get a glimpse of when Jesus will return, but the chapter is actually much deeper then just that.
So first, it’s worth placing us in time. This section is in that week leading up to his crucifixion. Towards the end of chapter 19 we see Jesus marching into Jerusalem on a colt, a day which we’ve now given the name Palm Sunday.
From this day on, all of the action is in Jerusalem or the close surrounds.
Interestingly, in Luke’s gospel, you can see a real focus on the temple during this week, and what rightful temple worship should look like.
You see, particular as we focus on Luke’s version of it, we see that it fits in a larger section about the temple.
In fact, way back at the end of chapter 19, which is only shortly after
But then as we get to , the temple becomes the focus again.
This time, we have the disciples becoming enamored with the beauty of the temple.
But it’s not about it’s beauty.
In fact Jesus says something that I think would have come as a shock to them. He tells them that a time is going to come when not one stone will be left on another. It’s going to be destroyed.
Now here’s the thing. When we come to this passage it is actually quite multi-layered. There is meaning upon meaning, and when we focus in on just one of those meanings we lose the greater picture.
You see, we can know from history that Jesus is actually being quite literal here. In 70 AD, tensions boiled over in Jerusalem and Rome came crashing in, completely destroying the temple.
So we’ve got one level in which we can read this looking at it from the physical temple’s perspective.
But also there is a level on which Jesus body becomes the temple. John’s gospel spells this out for us.
In , we get a parallel account of the clearing out of the temple that we also get in . Whether it’s the same event, just out of order in John, or he did it twice is up for debate, but Jesus is quoted as saying, “destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (). And then John clarifies for us that he is actually talking about his body.
Now back in , ’d suggest that when he describes the coming down of the temple, that’s probably a secondary consideration, but having said that, looking at this broader theme of the temple throughout the Bible we see how Jesus becomes the centre of our worship, and how he becomes the one in which we can come to God, that is, the very function of the temple. And so, using this broader theme, we can see how what Jesus goes on to say makes more sense of the question that was asked back in verse 6.
And so becomes this wonderfully rich chapter intermingling various parts of what happened in 70 AD and what we can expect more broadly during this end time.
Now there is obviously a lot we can explore in this passage, but I’m going to shift down to verse 25, where Jesus seems to more clearly have in picture his return, where everything will come to completion.
Starting in verse 25, we get a series of signs that we can expect, and based on the verse 27, it seems clear this time that these signs are directly related to Jesus coming again.
First we’re told that there will be cosmic signs in the sky.
Now, I’ve heard from time to time what these signs should be, most recently people linking it with some blood moons, but I would caution against being too specific like this. Even if we use the parallel passage in which elaborates a little more on these signs, we’re still not given specific astronomical events. When it says to look for signs, I don’t believe the answer is to star gaze.
But then it also tells us what to expect on Earth - again, I would stress that the description is not about specific events but a general condition.
You see, it tells us that the nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.
Now the anguish and perplexity - well I certainly think we’ve got that part covered, but regarding the roaring and tossing of the sea… well, that makes this verse a little trickier.
Now, I think the key is to see this as largely being symbolic rather than talking about a specific event. You see, the sea represents chaos, and so in some ways we can see this part of the verse saying that the nations will be in anguish and perplexity as the chaos takes over. I think that chaos will include the world becoming chaotic - more earthquakes, more tsunamis, more cyclones and so on. Just in the last day we’ve seen another significant earthquake in Alaska.
Verse 26 then
But I suspect that also in picture, we have chaos caused by humankind - the sort of chaos I spoke about in the introduction.
Verse 26 than goes on to say about how people will faint from terror and be apprehensive of what is coming on the world.
Now I want to stress that in none of this do we become any the wiser of the precise time of when Jesus will return.
You see, the terror and anguish that we feel today - they can be reminders that Jesus will come back, but we are never given a precise timeline.
Now in all of this exploration of this passage, I want to come back to the question I asked earlier - what hope is there?
I’ve shown this biblical picture of God bringing all things together for his good purpose, but I want to more specifically answer the question by looking at verse 28.
So let me read that verse to you - “When these things begin to take place, stan up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near”.
On one level we could see this as a reference to the anguish felt directly before Christ’s return, however, in the context I think it can more generally apply to the the troubles we face throughout these last days.
Domestic violence will occur. Families will be broken and the consequences will be seen for generations. Conflicts are going to occur on all levels of human interaction, from the two men fighting in the streets, to the conflict killing thousands upon thousands on a national level.
We rightfully are filled with anguish - but what is our response, to stand up… and lift up your heads.
It’s almost like the advice - ‘chin up’ - which is our way of saying, be stoic even when the chips are down, but when Jesus says it here, it is not just some empty stoicism, it’s filled with real hope - because we know that our redemption is drawing near.
This calls for a bigger perspective. We need to see beyond the worldly problem and onto Jesus. World peace and harmony within families might seem like an impossibility, but let’s remember, we are talking about someone who can break the bonds of death.
If Jesus can rise from the dead, and in doing so consign the devil to his inevitable defeat, nothing is impossible.
Our hope is in knowing that Jesus has this all covered. This side of his return we can know that things will still be chaotic - because that is the sign that he will return. But don’t let that chaos get you down, rather let it remind you of our greater hope.
From verse 29, Jesus then reminds us of the certainty of his words.
First he gives us a sign - the fig tree. It is actually quite simple. The fig tree, like most plants, are seasonal. In the case of the fig tree, when the leaves appear, summer is near.
The point is, our anguish must precede his return because this is the natural order. The terror comes first, then the redemption.
But then in verse 32 he gives us his word as further assurance.
He says: “truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”
Now just as a quick side note, that has caused some confusion, largely because the word generation can have multiple meanings, but I think the best understanding is to see generation meaning, this race of people. Therefore, we can see this as a promise that humanity will not die out before Christ’s return.
The bigger point being - Jesus has given us his word that he will return!
Keeping the hope
Keeping the hope
From verse 34, Jesus then gives us a great encouragement - don’t be weighed down.
The reason - that day is coming.
It will come suddenly, and for those who aren’t watchful it won’t be good, but for those who stand with Christ, it will mean redemption. It will mean that all wrongs will be made right. As we learn in , there will be no more pain or tears, for the old order of things will have passed.
There is a lot wrong with this world. I highlighted a few things at the start of this message, but of course that list could be very long. People are hurting and for the most part, people can’t understand what is happening.
But through the lens of the Bible we can begin to make sense of it. The Bible shows us, warts and all what has happened.
How sin entered the world but God has a plan. And it is because we know this plan that we know that there is hope.
For many around us, there is no hope. Without God, I too would look at what is happening and think it is a lost cause.
But it’s not.
In God, we have hope because we know that Christ will return.