Words and Wisdom

“Words and Wisdom”

Isaiah 65:17-25           Luke 21:5-19


Jesus and Isaiah both spoke words of wisdom…wisdom that is still valid for us today.

Isaiah spoke of God creating a new heaven and a new earth.  It’s a new world.

About five seconds after our arrival in this new world…you and I might turn to one another and say…”cancer…terrorism…what were they?”  Isaiah was good with his words.  As he painted a picture of the new heaven and the new earth…to which God has been leading his people for so long…the prophet used words to create images from the life we know now to tell us about life as we’ll know it then.  When he says the young man shall die a hundred years old he means that there will be no death in the new world…the new life.  He’s saying that the life that we’ve always longed for…that has always seemed out of reach…that is the life God is preparing for his servants.  The place that God is taking us is the ultimate human experience.

  1. S. Lewis put it this way….”If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy…the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.  If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it… that does not prove that the universe is a fraud.  Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it…but only to arouse it…to suggest the real thing…I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others do the same.”

Jesus’ disciples had heard Isaiah’s words…probably believed them…and were anxious to listen to Jesus’ words of wisdom.

Jesus spoke of tumultuous events that had passed and were to come.  He warned them to not be deceived by false teachers or by continued wars and catastrophes…or to buy all the cosmic signs that people talked about…or what we might hear today.

Now…it’s easy to think the end has arrived when we personally experience such things.   But…wars have been with us…almost continually.  In more than 33-hundred years of recorded history…only 268 have seen no war.  And…we have no idea what happened before history was recorded.  At the time of Jesus the Jews suffered from Roman wars and oppression.

When you and I are touched by war…it is so easy to think that it’s the end.  That’s how the Russians felt during the Napoleonic wars…and how many believers felt in Germany in 1945.    In the public library and bookstores you can find collections of letters written by people on both sides in the American Civil War who thought it was the end.

It’s tempting to think of natural catastrophes in the same way.  During the years between Christ’s death and the destruction of the Temple there was a terrible earthquake in Laodecia.  Vesuvius buried Pompeii.  There was famine in Rome.  These events did not mean the end of all things.  Look at the recent devastation in Haiti and the U.S. with Hurricane Matthew.  Neither would it mean the end if California fell into the sea and you could sail to Hawaii from Las Vegas.  But, with the rise of every war, earthquake or some other calamity there comes an increase of false prophets, pundits and experts who say they have the answer.

We should never allow ourselves to interpret the crazy events of life as meaning it’s all over.  Those events will continue to the end of time….but we don’t know when that is.  Be alert…so you are not deceived.

Jesus then gave us…not just the disciples… insight into what would befall them as they followed him.  His immediate disciples would face religious persecution…ironically at the hands of the local Sanhedrin and synagogues that should have been places of haven for them.  They would also suffer under the secular state and bear powerful witness through their suffering.  This persecution would mean they would be forced to flee in many directions.  But…as a result of their fleeing… the gospel would be preached to the Gentiles…fulfilling ancient prophecy.

Though they were tortured the Spirit gave the disciples the words that would dazzle their persecutors.  Peter…John…and Stephen before the religious leaders of the Sanhedrin….Paul before Agrippa…Martin Niemoller before Hitler…and Reverend Martin Luther King in Washington, D.C.

They would also experience intense personal hatred.  The radical commitment that the gospel demands can disrupt even the most natural and sacred human relationships.  It still does.

When he said…”all men will hate you”…Jesus meant people in general.  Christians sometimes receive favorable news coverage…but they should never forget that the same media powers can quickly turn the world against them.  Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)

Any follower of Christ who truly follows his example will suffer persecution…and we might be surprised by the source.  But that person will also know what Paul called “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings.”  Jesus said that fellowship of shared suffering was a blessed group.  Though some of Jesus’ followers would die he told them that not a hair on their head would perish.  This was the case for Stephen and James the son of Zebedee.  Though their bodies died…their souls live on in heaven with God forever.

For we who believe Christ that’s a promise that brings comfort and strength.

Jesus ended this part of his warning by saying…”By standing firm you will save yourselves.”

Rather than being blown away by persecution…we are to persevere…to endure…to stand firm.  The Christian life is not a sprint but a marathon…a race that has not yet ended for anyone here today.  By refusing to give up we will continue to enjoy the eternal life we cannot lose.

Some read the Scriptures we’ve heard today and believe their task is to be as good as they can and as faithful as they can and at some point God will snap his fingers and the new city…new life will appear overnight.  This is a passive way of interpreting.  It’s taken out of the context of Christ’s teachings.

When one reads all of Jesus’ teaching it’s clear that Christianity is not a passive thing.  When one reads early protestant reformers and evangelists like John Wesley…it’s clear that Christianity is not a passive thing.  Living a Christian life is all about action that comes from faith in Christ’s promise.

Jesus told us to go and make disciples.  Jesus told us to love God and love our neighbor.  Wesley told us to share the love of God abroad… abroad…in the world outside the comfort and safety of home and church

Stop and think about our world…our nation…our state…and our community today.   As the loud and calamitous political campaign has ended and many of us turn our focus to our favorite football and basketball teams and the upcoming holiday season…let us remember that for each of us…our race has not ended…not even taken a time out…the time for action is always now.

Say what you will about the recent campaigns and the candidates it has to be clear to everyone that there is hurt and anger in our midst.  Some of the hurt is self-inflicted.  Some hurt because they are victims of actions beyond their control.  Some of the anger is justified.  Some is not.    Our task as Christians is not to throw up our hands and say the campaign is now over…let’s leave it to the government.

No…our task is to be a part of ending the hurt and anger.  Our task is to reach out and share the love abroad…to go make disciples by sharing the love of God…the love God gives us and our love returned to God…with all we encounter…regardless of anything that might suggest otherwise.  Jesus’ last command was clear…simple…to the point…a command to take action.   “Go, make disciples.”

If we want this to be a Christian nation…it’s up to each of us who are Christians to reach out and show Christian love to all…especially those who hurt and who are angry…who are persecuted because they are considered different in some way.

It’s up to us…with the Spirit showing us the way and supporting us.  Jesus and the disciples didn’t look for a presidential executive order, a new law passed by Congress or a Supreme Court decision.  They reached out in love to share that love abroad.

Seeking any of those governmental actions is a waste of time and energy.  None of them share the love of God.

Jesus and…with the Spirit showing the way and supporting them…the disciples didn’t gather in the streets to protest and loot.  They reached out in love to share that love abroad.  Protests in the streets…peaceful or otherwise…aren’t sharing the love with others.

So…as we see the calamities…hurt… anger…and prejudice around us…near home…or far away…as we ourselves hurt physically and emotionally…let us continue to run the race that Christ has set before us…each of us, not someone else…not giving up because it’s difficult to go on…not quitting because of persecution whether it’s visible or quiet…always attempting to reach out in love to bring others to Christ…let us remember the words from John.  “They went out from us…but they did not really belong to us.  For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (1 John 2:19).

Let each of us take to heart the words of C. S. Lewis…” I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others do the same.”

“…and to help others do the same.”

True believers keep on going through thick and thin.  They don’t stop until their personal race is ended and they have done their part to create the new world that God…through them…is creating.

And…as we reach out in Christian love…take unbendable strength and supreme comfort in the very last words of our Lord, Savior, teacher and model…Jesus Christ…”I am with you always.”