The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
THE GOOD THE BAD THE UGLY
Welcome to River City! We’ve got a lot to get to today, so we’re going to dive straight in.
As we come into the text today, Jesus has 48 hours to live. How do you think you would spend your last 48 hours? If you enjoy country music, you know how Tim McGraw would spend his, right? He’d go skydiving, Rocky Mountain climbing, bull riding, and one that would be pretty good, give forgiveness he’d been denying.
Anyway, that’s where we are with Jesus here in Luke 21, and he’s not skydiving or riding bulls – we’re finding him teaching in the temple every day (20:1), and today we find him teaching about the end times. The last thing we saw him say last week was this: 45 While all the people were listening, he said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who want to go around in long robes and who love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the places of honor at banquets. These will receive harsher judgment.”
Jesus’ warning is, “Look out for the fancy religious folks who love attention, show off their wealth, enjoy being honored and take the best seats. Watch out for them. But then Jesus uncovers what is really going on underneath all the flash… They devour widows’ houses and say long prayers just for show.”
I’m going to highlight that last verse for you, and leave it up there while I keep reading into the next section: He looked up and saw the rich dropping their offerings into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow dropping in two tiny coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said,“this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4 For all these people have put in gifts out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”
Here is where I am going to give you a quick Bible-reading tip that is going to be very helpful to understanding what you read, and here it is: When you are reading in a particular book of the Bible, if you want to understand chapter 21, you have to also read chapter 20, and chapter 22, and then look for connections between all three. Repeated words, phrases, ideas.
It’s the same with smaller sections. Look for common words, phrases, ideas, characters, that are in all three. It’ll help you make sense of what you read. That’s the tip. Here’s how it works:
We read the section at the end of chapter 20 – religious show-offs parading around the temple, devouring widows houses. And then we read the story of a widow putting in two tiny coins that were all she had to live on.
Many times I’ve heard this passage preached from the perspective of giving. Generosity. Commitment. Dedication. The preacher will say something about how Jesus commends this poor widow for giving her last 2 pennies to the Lord, while the rich simply tossed in cash that was expendable. That her percentage just smoked the percentage they were giving.
I’m going to argue today that that is not what this text means, here is why:
Because when you read 20:47 first, the warning against the scribes, and then read 21:4, you find that this widow gave all the money she had to live on, not because she is generous, but because the religious leaders are devouring her house! I can imagine the religious have preached to her over and over, hey, God wants to bless you, but he can’t if you don’t give your daily tithe to the temple.
You have the religious leaders parading around in fancy robes, and joyfully receiving the praise of the people, making a show of their prayers and their religiousness, while the widows stay poor, and have even their last two pennies demanded of them by the wealthy leaders who claim to speak for God.
This is why Jesus cleared the temple.
This is why he wept over Jerusalem.
Jesus is a defender of the weak. He said his mission is to proclaim good news to the poor, not to drain them. So if Jesus is teaching a lesson about generosity here, it’s because he is once again exposing the religious leaders for their hypocrisy.
The kingdom of heaven that Jesus is ushering in is not built on domination and showmanship. It is built on humility, generosity, compassion, and self-denial. He is ushering in an entirely new political system than what the world has to offer, one where the most vulnerable are not only valued, but protected, raised up, and defended. If you stomp on the weak, you stomp on the very people that God has set out to rescue and redeem, and judgment will be harsh. The blessings given to the wealthy were meant to be used to take care of the weak, not exploit them.
And again, allowing this section of Luke to lead to the next, these religious leaders are devouring widows instead of looking after them, repossessing their homes instead of meeting their needs. And Jesus promises in verse 5, the judgment coming to you is that after centuries of devouring widows’ houses, now it’s your house that is coming down.
5 As some were talking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 “These things that you see — the days will come when not one stone will be left on another that will not be thrown down.”
The first temple in Jerusalem was built by King Solomon, the 3rd king of Israel, around 950 BC. About 400 years later, that temple was destroyed by the Babylonians as God allowed the people of Israel to be overtaken and exiled because of their sin for 70 years. They started rebuilding the temple in about 500 BC, a much less impressive temple than the first one. But in 19 BC, about 15 years before Jesus was born, King Herod wanted to curry some favor with the Jews and show off his own wealth, so he launched a massive renovation effort that took the better part of 80 years to complete.
You think the I-80/380 interchange project is taking a while, it’s not been 80 years. In that time, Herod built new foundation walls and doubled the size of the temple area from 17 acres to 34 acres. These stones Jesus is talking about are massive white marble stones up to sixty-seven feet long, twelve feet high, and eighteen feet wide. It’s hard to imagine the engineering that went into cutting and transporting stones that size. It wasn’t just the stones – people would come from far and near to see the temple, and would bring gifts with them. A lot of the temple was coated in gold and silver – even the gates and doors. Jewish historian Josephus wrote that this building shone in the sun like a snow covered mountain– something you could see a long way off (Bock, 1660-1661).
Jesus’ disciples are just blown away by this, probably because it is still under construction and they may not have seen these stones before. You can also imagine their unbelief when Jesus promises that this very temple that is getting these massive upgrades will be torn down, stone by stone.
But Jesus wasn’t just talking about the temple building itself coming down. He was also talking about the systems and structures of the temple –
- In the sacrifice of his own body and blood, the sacrificial system was coming down.
- At his death, when the temple curtain was torn, access to God only by high priests was coming down.
- By ushering in the global Church, Jesus was rebuilding a new temple by making everyone who believes in him into a living stone where God’s presence would dwell.
- He was even talking about something well beyond his death and resurrection when the new kingdom would come where there would be no temple at all, because as Revelation 21:22 says, The Lord God Almighty and Jesus, the Lamb, are the temple.
They don’t know all that, so they can’t imagine this gorgeous building would come down any time soon, so they asked him two questions: 7 …, “so when will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?”
How will we know your prophecy is about to come true? Well, most prophecies had more than one fulfillment – they had the immediate fulfillment, which is what God had revealed to the prophet and told them to communicate to the people, but there was often another larger fulfillment that would happen much later in history.
It’s exactly what we’re seeing here. Because we live 2000 years in the future, we know the immediate fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy about the temple being torn down happened about 4 years after the temple expansion was completed in the year 70 AD when the Romans captured Jerusalem. But the greater fulfillment of Jesus’ words would happen much later, at what Jesus calls “the end of the age.”
And for centuries people have tried to figure out when this is going to happen. People have pored for hours and hours and hours over the scriptures to try and nail down an exact time, or at least the year that the Lord will return. That in itself is one of the signs…
- RELIGIOUS DECEPTION
8 …“Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Don’t follow them.
As early as 20 years after Jesus ascended to heaven, people were going around claiming to be Jesus, having returned again, trying to get people to follow them. While we may not have many people around today who claim to be the Almighty, we do have plenty of people who, as self-appointed leaders of the global Church, come “in the name of Jesus”, quoting scripture, claiming to have special access to the Father and/or divine information or special revelation about what God is doing and how the end will happen. Jesus said in Matthew 7 that these people may even mimic the gifts of the Spirit and cast out demons, do miracles, and prophesy in his name, and Jesus’ warning is don’t follow them!
- INTERNATIONAL DISTRESS
9 When you hear of wars and rebellions, don’t be alarmed. Indeed, it is necessary that these things take place first, but the end won’t come right away.” 10 Then he told them, “Nation will be raised up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
Some of these wars are kingdom against kingdom, like Russia and Ukraine. Some of these wars are among people groups, not countries. Racial conflict, political tribes… don’t be alarmed. It’s another piece of how the end comes about.
- CREATION IN TURMOIL
11 There will be violent earthquakes, and famines and plagues in various places, and there will be terrifying sights and great signs from heaven.
Earthquakes. Famines. Plagues. Does COVID qualify for that? Probably. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs from heaven. Either I’m living under a rock and have completely missed out on this, or this is one of those pieces that hasn’t happened yet.
I was hanging out with friends around a campfire about a year or two ago, and I thought this was coming to pass. My heart jumped when I saw a string of about 50 stars in a perfectly straight line headed from west to east in the night sky. Seriously, I was like, oh man, that’s a sign in the sky, something is going down! Turns out it was Elon Musk’s new satellites. Maybe there are some odd things happening in the sky, but nothing I would put in the “terrifying the world” category.
- PERSECUTION OF THE CHURCH
12 But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you. They will hand you over to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.
We’re going to start studying the book of Acts this Fall, and you’ll see how persecution is one of the ways God moves his people geographically where he wants them to be. But Jesus’ words are comforting: When you face persecution, and you are put on trial again and again, whether it’s in front of angry church authorities or political authorities, it’s not a tragedy or a disaster – it’s all for a very specific purpose, which is:
13 This will give you an opportunity to bear witness. Again, in Acts, we’re going to see this play out in real time. But here also is how Jesus intends to comfort you. You don’t need to be afraid of this moment, and you don’t need to plan for it! You don’t need to practice what you’ll say. You don’t have to study for this test. You don’t need to think hard about how to weasel your way out of anything. Look at this…
14 Therefore make up your minds not to prepare your defense ahead of time, 15 for I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.
There’s no reason to think that this only applies to the disciples who were right there with Jesus, because he’s referring to a time coming in the future that will mark the end. Which means, you have every reason to believe that he’s talking about you. That YOU might be persecuted for your faith, but YOU don’t have to plan out what you’re going to say, and YOU can receive words and wisdom from God that your intelligent adversaries cannot resist or contradict.
It doesn’t mean they will let you off the hook. Just because you are saved by grace, filled with the Spirit, and receive words and wisdom that your opponents can’t resist or contradict does not mean you will necessarily be protected from suffering or pain.
16 You will even be betrayed by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends. They will kill some of you. 17 You will be hated by everyone because of my name,
Betrayal. Hatred. Death. All things Jesus is all too familiar with. And his warning is that some of us will face those same things. But even if those things happen, here is Jesus’ promise to anyone who suffers for his name:
18 but not a hair of your head will be lost. You might be killed in a horrible fashion, but God is able to work the details of his story in such a way that you will not be losing anything… not even a hair of your head. It will all be redeemed! By enduring through all kinds of hardship and natural disasters and worldly catastrophe, trusting God that he told you all of this was coming a long time ago and he promised to be with you and give you words to say and so on, as verse 19 says, you will be gaining what is truly life.
I want you to see this, especially if you would consider yourself a young person. The word Jesus uses to describe being his disciple, or being a Christian, the word he uses is not “experience” – it is “endurance.” You say that sounds boring. Even miserable. To which I would say wait till we read the book of Acts together. It’s not boring.
Every believer is clothed with power from on high from God the Father, who wraps his arms around you in Jesus, and would say to you, “when you see this stuff happening, don’t be afraid. I’ve got you. Don’t let anxiety steal your hope. Don’t let fear rob you of purpose, when I’m fully in control of every bit of this.” You might look at the world around you and think it’s spinning out of control. It’s not. Everything is right on schedule. There is not a single detail that has been left up to chance.
What are the things Jesus said we should look for as the end gets closer?
- Religious deception
- International Distress
- Creation in Turmoil
- Persecution of the Church
Do you see any of those things happening today? Yes, of course, because all of these things have been happening all throughout history. There have always been wars. Always been people groups attacking each other. Always been earthquakes, famines, plagues. Always been religious nutjobs trying to get people to follow them. There have always been religious leaders taking advantage of their parishioners. And there have always been places in the world where it’s dangerous to be a disciple of Jesus.
In Mark's gospel, he uses a phrase Luke doesn’t. He calls all of these signs “the beginning of birth pains.” My wife had four children, and I observed that there are a lot of pains associated with being pregnant. But it’s not until those pains increase with intensity and frequency and regularity that you really take seriously that the baby is almost here.
So is the end close or not? Are we living in the last days or not? Well, according to some of these signs Jesus promises will come, maybe, maybe not. But the end of the age is not going to be like looking for a needle in a haystack, where only one or two really smart people are able to figure it out. It’s going to be like lightning across the night sky.
When we are close to the end, violent, intense earthquakes, nasty wars, and persecution will be widespread and intense. Death from plagues, famines, etc will be intense and frequent, there will be unmistakable strange and terrifying things happening to stars and stuff in the sky. If you want to read more on this, check out Revelation 6-11. It’s not pretty.
There is a lot we don’t know, but what we do know is that Jesus has promised us that he will be with us no matter what comes our way.
This is all possible because in less than 48 hours, Jesus will stand on trial in front of governors and authorities, even though he committed no crimes or sins. He was the Word of God and the Wisdom of God in the flesh, sent from heaven to redeem and restore sinners by dying in their place. He took the loss that should have been ours – eternal separation from God the Father – calling out from the cross, my God why have you forsaken me!? And he was the only one who ever perfectly the life that God wanted from you and I, and upon his death and resurrection, all of gain: his perfection, his righteousness, his sonship is applied to you when you simply call out to him in faith and believe in his name.
Let’s respond together in prayer together, okay? I’m going to put two things on the screen that you can consider as you respond to the scriptures today, alright?
- If you’re a disciple of Jesus, you’ve been following him:
- Lord, am I ready for these last days?
- Make me ready for them. Be honest with him here – if you find yourself fearful, anxious, worried… take those to him in confession. God I’m terrified that I’ll not endure. I’m afraid that instead of witnessing for you, I will cower in fear and you’ll reject me. God, do what you need to do in me to prepare me for these moments, if that is the direction my life will go.
- If you’re not a disciple of Jesus:
- I invite you to right where you are pray this prayer with me – Heavenly Father, your word says that there is an end coming, and anyone who calls on your name will be saved. Lord Jesus, save me from my sin!
- Show me how to love you with all of my heart, my mind, my soul, my strength.
Darrell L. Bock, Luke: 9:51–24:53, vol. 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996)