Luke 21:10-19 CEB
Then Jesus said to them, “Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other. 11 There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky. 12 But before all this occurs, they will take you into custody and harass you because of your faith. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will provide you with an opportunity to testify. 14 Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance. 15 I’ll give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to counter or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed by your parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends. They will execute some of you. 17 Everyone will hate you because of my name. 18 Still, not a hair on your heads will be lost. 19 By holding fast, you will gain your lives.
Imagine entering a classroom with fourteen five-year olds who still haven’t mastered the ability to communicate so most adults can understand them! Chaos All Around! Sometimes life seems just that chaotic.
And then there is the speed of life. It seems like everything is moving faster than is comfortable. Our workplaces are constantly pushing up against a deadline, home projects are piling up, we no sooner get one thing done then two more crop up.
The complexity of life seems to increase almost exponentially. What used to be a simple process is now complicated by regulations or technology. Do you remember, guys, when you used to be able to work on your own car (that is beyond a simple oil change)? The advent of the automotive computer has almost made the shade tree mechanic a thing of the past.
And what about the climate of society these days? With each day it seems that society gets more adversarial. There is no longer any such thing as a accident. There is always someone to blame – someone was negligent. “After all, they should have known that someone would mis-use their product and get injured.” Our society seems to become more self-centered each day. It is my profit that most important, it my comfort that is most important, it is my pleasure that is most important.
Individuals and families face way too many challenges. Financially it is almost a necessity for both husband and wife work. The cost of living for a family is difficult at best. Our physical health provides challenges that can overwhelm us.
The issues of life can seem too large, too complex for us to do anything about.
All this gives rise to the question, “Will anything I do make a difference, bring hope in the midst of this chaos?” When it relates to you own family – more often than not we can make a difference (though teenagers may be the exception!) In our community – we can possibly make a difference. In our nation – it seems less and less likely that we can make a difference. And, in our world – anymore it seems there is no chance we can impact the direction or well-being of this world.
The world of Jesus during his lifetime seemed just as overwhelming. Our passage this morning is prefaced by a conversation about the Temple. The observation was the beauty of the Temple and the gifts dedicated to God. Jesus hits them with a sobering prediction [vs. 6] “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” He is pointing to the destruction of the temple under the oppressive Roman rule. Those gathered ask, “when?’ and “how?” The questions about the chaos to come give rise to Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse [vv. 5-38]. Let’s remember what “apocalyptic” refers to. Apocalyptic, in its base meaning is “revelation” – the revealing of future truth. It is often associated with end times. Jesus’ statement about the destruction of the Temple is apocalyptic. It is not yet here, but it is coming.
In this “in between” time Jesus describes the turmoil to come. Wars, insurrection, earthquakes, famines and plagues. (v.9-11). He talks about being arrested and persecuted “because of my name.” (vs. 12). But then he takes an interesting turn. In the midst of all this chaos, we will have the opportunity to be a witness. (vs. 13) Jesus sets that opportunity is a court of law image. Setting it in court implies the gravity, necessity of testifying. To testify means we are going to speak HOPE into the midst of despair. We are going to be a voice for the goodness of the Lord, and the goodness of following his way. People need to hear hope!
Years ago, Tim Savage taught a workshop on interpersonal communication. At one point he talked about how to diffuse a tense situation. He called it “The Fog.” When we are hit with criticism our first inclination is to strike back. Most often, acting on that inclination only makes things worse. In an exercise where we paired off in twos, one of us was to criticize the other (anything we could think of, no matter how silly). The other person was to come back in kind. Additionally, the first one was to criticize again. Finally, the other one was to “fog.” To fog, you simply agree with any little facet of their criticism that might be true (no matter how small). It was amazing how that knocked the wind out of the criticism cycle.
One hopeful voice in a crowd of despair can begin to make a difference. One voice that points to a speck of “blue sky” on a distant horizon, taking our thoughts to what can be. This is not a pie-in-the-sky optimism, but a real reason for hope. As followers of Christ we have practical reasons for the hope we have.
But how does this happen? How can we be a voice of hope in the midst of despair? In verses 14-15 Jesus speaks of two things we need to do: 1) Tame our will – “make up your minds…” and 2) identify and tap into our source.
First, he says, “make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance.” Why would Jesus ask us to do this? Isn’t it logical to be prepared for as many contingencies as possible? As a lawyer. When they enter a courtroom, they have made extensive preparations to deal with almost any line of questioning. When we are “testifying” about the God we love, the God who leads us through difficult times, we are not sure what another’s state of mind is. We cannot create a “one defense for all situations.” Who we are talking to makes a big difference. If our witness is too set, it will leave no room for allowing questions, and responding with wisdom. It reminds me a little of the “steps to salvation.” I have always struggled with any system that boils salvation down to a series of set steps. Every person is unique, and their path to God will be likewise unique. Our witness takes into account where another person is in life, what their experiences might have been, where their struggles lie. An image that Paul uses is “feeding someone on milk before you can introduce solid food.” But if you are talking with a strong believer who is in the midst of despair, it would be an insult to start with “milk.” We start where the other person is, and that takes wisdom to discern.
So, second, Jesus points us to our source. In verse 15 he says, “I’ll give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to counter of contradict.” God’s words and wisdom will help us speak hope into every situation and circumstance. Our opponents very often will not be easily identified and may not even be a person or group of people. Very often our biggest opponents will be past failures or mistakes. They may be society’s norms that will be our opponent. Though our opponents may take many and various form, God will give us words and wisdom to counter their opposition. Think about speaking hope to a teenager whose despair is leading them to give up on life. God can provide the wisdom that will help them uncover the lies they have begun believing about themselves. God’s wisdom can help them see the beautiful person God has created them to be. With our minds made up to truly listen and let God speak through us we can make a difference.
Shining hope into the life of a senior citizen who struggles just to move about their house is a challenge. The obstacles can seem overwhelming leaving them paralyzed in their struggle. If we can truly listen, while staying truly connected to our loving God, we can reflect that love and wisdom into their lives offering hope in the midst of despair.
Our task is to find ways of living Philippians 4 so that others might experience it as a reality for themselves. In Philippians 4:13 Paul says, “I can do all things through him [Christ] who strengthens me.” Paul is so confident of this that he says later in Philippians 4:19, “And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Can you begin to imagine how powerful those words could become in the life of someone who is struggling with despair? Not spoken as a prescription (“Take these two verses every four hours and call me in the morning!”). But these two verses lived out in our lives for al to see, our testimony. God’s words and wisdom can make a difference when we make up our minds to follow God’s lead and shine hope in the midst of despair.
So I ask, in the midst of chaos, who will speak hope into everyday life? Who will speak hope into the lives of our community and world? Do we wait for someone else? Do we wait for someone more qualified? No! It is you and I who need to make up our minds and wills to be harbingers of hope!
Pastor Paul Grossman