Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Sleebo Feast/Festival

Sermon / Homily on Luke 21:5-28

An Opportunity for Your Testimony

by Jerry Goebel, One Family Outreach

Scripture: Luke 21:5-19

Luke 21:5-19
[Lk 21:5] And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said, [6] "As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down."

[7] They questioned Him, saying, "Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?" [8] And He said, "See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and, 'The time is near.' Do not go after them. [9] "When you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately."
[10] Then He continued by saying to them, "Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, [11] and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.

[12] "But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name's sake. [13] "It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. [14] "So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; [15] for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. [16] "But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, [17] and you will be hated by all because of My name. [18] "Yet not a hair of your head will perish. [19] "By your endurance you will gain your lives." (NAS)

Luke 21:5-6
[Lk 21:5] And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said, [6] "As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down."

"Adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts..."
What a contrast this picture paints. The altar was covered by beautiful votive gifts (expensive gifts given for the glory of God), the stones were of great size and perfectly cut (see the study from John for a detailed description of these stones) and yet, within those cold stones and among those expensive gifts the religion had grown hollow and malevolent. Widows were preyed upon by attorneys and the clergy (they were one and the same in Judaism) the prophets and even the Messiah were persecuted by the privileged. The glorious veneer of the temple covered a dark sin within its walls. The edifice itself had become more important than the God it housed. Supporting the temple and its bureaucracy had become the central focus of the religious institution of Judaism. In fact, even supporting the institution had long been supplanted by defending its ideology; feeding its bureaucracy, and propagating its lies. The edifice and the institution had become the religion and truth (the arrival of the Messiah) had become a threat to be squelched.

How do we tell when bureaucracy, ritual, and buildings become more important than ministry? One good sign is to examine a church's use of resources; both time and money. Do our budgets show as high a commitment to outreach as they do to in-reach? Do the poor and vulnerable in our community receive as many volunteer hours as our choir, bible studies, and home fellowship groups? Do we put as much money into building the lives of our impoverished as we do into LCD projectors, sound systems, and building campaigns?

The temple leaders of Jerusalem could not distinguish between their needs and luxuries; can we? Our churches are often resplendent in wealth while our communities are dying of neglect. How would our Lord respond to such discrepancies? Well, let's look at how he did respond to them when he walked the earth.

"There will not be left one stone upon another..."
Jesus does what we (as his prophetic people) should always do, he presents an eternal perspective to a mortal viewpoint. He looks at the trinkets of man, even the grandiose trinkets like the temple of Herod – an eighty-year building project – and virtually says; "You think this is permanent? You couldn't be more deceived than to place your trust in these stones or the institution that surrounds them."

The word stone [GSN3037 lithos] is used elsewhere by Jesus too.

Matthew 21:42
[42] Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures, 'THE STONE [GSN3037 lithos] WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER STONE; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES'?"

Matthew 18:5-6
[5] "And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; [6] but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone [GSN3037 lithos] hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."

Clearly the permanent stone – the eternal stone – is Jesus the Christ and he alone is where we should we place our eternal investment. Our Lord is obviously cautioning us not to put eternal stock in votive gifts and ostentatious edifices. Our eternal investment should always be, "These little ones who believe in Me."

Am I awed by the Eternal Stone (that the builders rejected) and investing in the gifts that he cites as eternal (the ones the priests neglected) or am I duped by institutionalism and grand edifices? "Lord, please let me be awed by you – the cornerstone – and prevent my heart from turning to stone in the face of your people's needs."

Luke 21:7-11
[7] They questioned Him, saying, "Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?" [8] And He said, "See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and, 'The time is near.' Do not go after them. [9] "When you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately."
[10] Then He continued by saying to them, "Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, [11] and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven."

"See to it that you are not misled…"
It is interesting to note what Christ tells us about the works and words of the "mis-leaders" or deceivers [GSN4105 planao]. Their message is two-fold:

They will come in Christ's name [GSN3686 onoma]; and
They will claim that "the time [GSN2140 kairos] is near."

Why are these people such a threat? Because they will take our eye off of the ball. They would have us focus on the clock – not the work at hand. It is much too easy to look for when Christ might be coming rather than on what we should be doing!

We need to remember that we are supposed to be a harvest-oriented people – not a clock-watching people. Harvesters work until the harvest is in; even if the sun goes down. Clock-watchers spend more time watching the clock and wondering if it's 4:58 or 4:59pm than they spend on swinging their scythe. Where is the focus of my faith? Where is the focus of my church?

In Matthew's version of this story, Jesus tells us exactly when "the end" will come:

Matthew 24:14
14 "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come." (NAS)

In 2nd Peter, our Lord's disciple has this to say about "the time" when the Lord will come:

2 Peter 3:8-9
[8] But do not let this one {fact} escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. [9] The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (NAS)

The Lord is patient towards us, "not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." When will the Lord come? Not at 5:00pm, but when the harvest is in. When the "gospel of the kingdom is preached to all the world" and "all come to repentance."

Do we want to see the Lord come soon? Then our role is to be "in the harvest" bringing in the sheaves and not in the grain elevators waiting for the bell to strike closing time. The prophets did their part, the Lord did his part, and we do our part whenever we work toward bringing the harvest in.

Luke 21:12-13
[12] "But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name's sake. [13] "It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony.

"It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony."
The closer we get to Christ, the more we should expect opposition; both worldly and spiritually. In fact, a life of comfort and ease should be a sign that we are growing increasingly distant from our Lord. Instead, we should be striving for a life of dedication and service. As we grow closer to Jesus, we must increasingly grow closer to the plight of the poor. Their plight should alarm us. It should break our hearts and call us to acts of radical mercy and advocacy. It is for those actions that we should expect opposition!

Yet, how many see opposition as our "opportunity for your testimony?"

How blithely we throw around that word today; "I am going to share my testimony."

Testimony actually comes from the word marturion [GSN3142] and the root of that word is martus [GSN3144] which means; "I would be willing to die for my testimony." And, throughout history, many have been martyred for their love of Christ (and sadly, just as many have been martyred in the "name of Christ").

Yet, we often think of persecution as not getting our way in our petty fiefdoms. The area where I live is facing a scarcity of labor that is shocking in its impact. Many in my town are either unemployed or grossly underemployed. Yet, I have Christian friends who see it as a sign of God's abandonment that they are underemployed and wonder why God is neglecting them. God is not neglecting them – the economy is dysfunctional – there's a difference! The fact that our ship does not float above the economic water line is not a sign of God's negligence – it is a sign of man's injustice.

Instead, it would truly be a sign of faith if we responded to this "opposition" as an opportunity, as a chance to witness to our confidence in Christ, to provide testimony.

Nor, do I make this statement casually, our family – and many mission families – choose to live "underemployed" as opportunities to witness to God's glory. This act of simplicity is not confining, but liberating. It is wonderfully freeing to be dependent upon the Lord and akin to those around us who are experiencing similar circumstances.

Indeed, I have begun to question if we understand the fullness of the Gospel if we choose not to live simply among the poor.

Yet, we must distinguish that Christianity is not about martyrdom for its own sake or poverty for the sake of asceticism. Throughout history, martyrdom and asceticism have become false gods in themselves. Yet our Lord himself sought to avoid the cup of suffering, "if it was possible [Matt 26:39]." Yet, avoidance wasn't possible – the cup was inevitable.

Jesus did not drink from that cup for the sake of suffering; he drank from the cup for the sake of salvation. As Christians, we do not seek suffering for the sake of enlightenment, we suffer because we throw ourselves (like Christ incarnate) into the human situation. We suffer because we refuse to turn away from Lazarus lying crippled at our gates. We suffer because someone suffers in our neighborhood and we must go to them.

Our relationship with the vulnerable is inevitable if we are going to wear Christ's banner. To know Jesus is to be tied to him in his most vulnerable form. Choosing to be simple among the poor and to advocate on their behalf is to seek the opportunity for testimony. It should be the mark of our faith. To be Christian is to be a vocal advocate (a prophet for the poor). To be Christian is "not to avoid the fight" – but to avoid the wrong fights. We forget about our own rights and stand up for the rights of others. Those are the fights worth fighting:

"The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose, because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins. In order for somebody to win an important, major fight 100 years hence, a lot of other people have got to be willing – for the sheer fun and joy of it – to go right ahead and fight, knowing you're going to lose. You mustn't feel like a martyr. You've got to enjoy it."

- I.F. Stone, now-deceased muckraker who exposed corruption at the highest levels of government during his lifetime(1).

Luke 21:14-19
[14] "So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; [15] for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. [16] "But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, [17] and you will be hated by all because of My name. [18] "Yet not a hair of your head will perish. [19] "By your endurance you will gain your lives." (NAS)

"Not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves…"
Does this sound like good legal advice? Does Jesus sound like an attorney you would want on retainer? Actually, this advice (that Jesus gives to us) is about far more than a legal response to personal accusers. Our Lord's advice refers to building a character that will serve as our rejoinder to an accusatory world.

Good legal advice might help us avoid court, but this advice of Jesus tells us that if we live by his premises we should expect to be in direct confrontation with any system that is unjust. Jesus teaches us that the stance of a Christian against injustice should lead us to trial; not away from it. I believe it is a mark of the health of our outreaches to the vulnerable that – in our mentoring and advocacy programs – more and more of our volunteers and church members are finding themselves going to court with the people they mentor. Whenever justice is lopsided; the Christian must balance the scales – we should expect to be in court on behalf of the poor!

Jesus is telling us that we should "expect to be tried" for our beliefs. He doesn't say it may happen, he says that if we truly follow him it will happen: "You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, [17] and you will be hated by all because of My name."

The Christian should never be surprised by persecution; he should wonder why he is not being persecuted more.

Luke 21:18-19
[18] "Yet not a hair of your head will perish. [19] "By your endurance you will gain your lives."

"By your endurance you will gain your lives."
Every apostle except John the Beloved was martyred (however John was once boiled in oil and also sent into exile on the prison mining colony of Patmos), so how can Jesus have said that "not a hair of your head will perish?"
Once again, the original Greek words present us with a fuller meaning of this scripture:

The word for perish [GSN622i apollumi] means eternally destroyed or even damned. To Jesus, the only measure of something's worth in this life is whether or not it prepares us for an eternal life of ultimate liberation in the love of God. This is not a passage about the "resurrection of the body." Rather than being deceived into a nonsensical debate over whether or not I will have a televangelist's hair in the next life (when I don't even have a full head of hair in this one), I should be awed that God has my whole being – down to the most finite atom – in the palm of his hand.
By itself, hair was a symbol to the Jew of taking a vow; a symbol that dated back thousands of years. It was the outward sign that a man had taken a vow to serve the Lord:

Numbers 6:5
[5] "All the days of his vow of separation no razor shall pass over his head. He shall be holy until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the LORD; he shall let the locks of hair on his head grow long."
Paul takes this action when he vows to return to Jerusalem for what he knows will be a final trial with the Jews [Acts 18:18]

However "cutting off the hair" was also figurative of the destruction of an entire people.

Isaiah 7:17-20
[17] "The LORD will bring on you, on your people, and on your father's house such days as have never come since the day that Ephraim separated from Judah, the king of Assyria."

[18] In that day the LORD will whistle for the fly that is in the remotest part of the rivers of Egypt and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. [19] They will all come and settle on the steep ravines, on the ledges of the cliffs, on all the thorn bushes and on all the watering places.

[20] In that day the Lord will shave with a razor, hired from regions beyond the Euphrates (that is, with the king of Assyria), the head and the hair of the legs; and it will also remove the beard.

Jesus is calling upon a rich tradition to tell us that not only are the "Endurers" set apart but that they will be saved from the final and complete destruction, the "apollumi." We shouldn't argue about how many hairs we will (or won't) have at that time; instead we should encourage each other – with all of our might – to endure to the end.

Endurance [GSN5281 hupomone] is a word that the early Followers of the Way would have heard in nearly every message, on every gathering, in every church. We find it 31 times in the letters to the churches, used by every one of the writers of those letters: Paul, James, Peter and John. The most apt use of the word for endurance is "persistent and expectant perseverance." Let's look at how Paul uses it in Romans:

Romans 5:3-6
[3] And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance [GSN5281 hupomone]; [4] and perseverance [GSN5281 hupomone], proven character; and proven character, hope; [5] and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

[6] For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

It is our endurance that Christ says will, "gain your lives;" our persistent and expectant perseverance through the toughest of trials. Is this the type of fruit my faith is producing? Am I like an athlete who purposely places himself in trials to grow this kind of endurance? Can I look ahead at my week and see the places that I am going to go which will stretch my faith and make me stronger, more enduring? Prayer meetings, worship services, and bible studies are only a part of what we are talking about here;. Can I say that my week takes me beyond the realm of Christian conversation and into the realm of action and advocacy? Is there any evidence of "hupomone" in my life – of lasting commitment to the vulnerable, of Christian advocacy? Am I involved enough in my community to even know that injustice abounds about me? Do the vulnerable call me friend; do they even know my name?

These are the Patient Endurers; the ones who will know life.

Lives [GSN5590 psuche]: In this reading, Jesus makes the promise; "By your endurance you will gain your lives." What is it exactly that our patient endurance will gain us? The word used is psuche [GSN5590] and translates literally into "heart, mind and soul."

Every one of the Gospel writers uses this term when they quote Jesus in the following pronouncement:

Luke 9:24
[Lk 9:24] "For whoever wishes to save his life [GSN5590 psuche] will lose it, but whoever loses his life [GSN5590 psuche] for My sake, he is the one who will save it."

We receive our heart, mind and soul when we give our heart, mind and soul to Jesus. And this giving is not intangible; it is not hard to figure out exactly "how" to give our heart, mind and soul to Jesus:

Luke 18:22
[Lk 18:22] When Jesus heard this, He said to him, "One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."

To gain everything, give everything; herein is the Gospel of Jesus. The poor are our "opportunity for our testimony." They are our opportunity to love Jesus in the flesh. Do I love Jesus... in his most vulnerable form?

Have I taken advantage of this most critical opportunity?

References:

(1) Source: Sojourners, Sojomail, www.sojo.net, 09/22/04

Copyright © 2007 Jerry Goebel. All Rights Reserved.

See Also:

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