We are reminded in God’s Word from Luke 21:5-19 that the Last Day, the day of Jesus’ return from heaven to earth, is coming. The day is coming when all things will be made new, when the evils of this day will be flung far away and replaced with heaven. “Hold on!”
Many people who walk into Grace Church for the first time are taken aback by the beauty that confronts them. Their eyes drift upward following the vaulted ceiling, admiring the ornate columns. They are struck by the intricate details carved into the wood that adorns the church from pews, to pulpit, to altar. The stained-glass windows shine with the splendor of a rainbow as the bright sun shines through them. Wouldn’t you agree that the beauty of this building perhaps gives a little glimpse of heaven or a very real reminder of God’s presence among us? We are blessed to have this building. There aren’t many like it.
You know that there will be a time when not one of these bricks will be left on one another. Everything that you see here will be thrown down, all of this beauty completely destroyed. Now hold on. Maybe that sounds a bit shocking. What do you mean that this building is going to be destroyed? Please know that there are no plans in the works to tear this building down. The land hasn’t been sold to a developer who will tear this down to build something new. But the reality is that this building will not last forever. No matter how much care and upkeep are done, we are reminded in God’s Word today that the Last Day, the day of Jesus’ return from heaven to earth, is coming and this building, this earth as we know it will no longer exist.
When’s this going to happen? That’s the same question that the disciples asked Jesus as they were having a similar conversation about the beautiful temple in Jerusalem. This magnificent building had beautiful large stones, some up to 60 feet long, either pure white or covered in gold. There were elaborate decorations that adorned the temple including a golden vine with grape clusters as tall as a man. If you think that Grace church is magnificent, the temple was truly something to behold. As the disciples admired it, Jesus said to them, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” Hold on, Jesus! What do you mean? The temple will be destroyed?! When will this happen?
It was shocking for the disciples to hear that something so dear to them and their faith would be destroyed. But instead of telling them when this would happen, Jesus gave them warning signs of something even more important, the Last Day is coming and he gave them encouragement to hold on in faith.
Jesus shared a number of signs that would show that the Last Day is coming. There are going to be those who will try to deceive you and your faith. There will be people claiming to be the promised Savior of this world. There are going to wars and rumors of wars, and great earthquakes, famines, epidemics, and fearful events.
The reality is that these signs were happening already at the time of Jesus and if they sound familiar, it’s because they still happen today. It’s a stark reminder that we are living in the last days and that God’s promise for Jesus to come again on the last could happen at any time. It’s also important to take notice that Jesus said the world would look this way. So, we shouldn’t be surprised, but instead hold on in faith.
Here’s what this deception looks like today. We are surrounded by an unbelieving society that seeks to discredit the Bible and what it says about this life and the life to come. But even more dangerous than the openly defiant unbelief, are the false teachers who disguise themselves under the name “Christian,” like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s the preachers and churches that want to tell you that there is no such thing as absolute truth, that whatever you want your truth about this world to be is just fine, you don’t need the Bible to dictate that for you. It’s the deceptive teachings that want to deny challenging biblical truths like creation, that Jesus was truly God, that the resurrection really happened, or that hell is real. They’ll tell you that these things don’t matter in your relationship with God.
The temptation is to follow them and the attraction that their teachings have. But Jesus warns you and me. Watch out and do not follow them! They will pull you away from the saving truth of Scripture. But hold on! Hold on the to the truths of God’s Word. There is real truth. It’s not a truth that the world will always like or let’s be honest, that our own hearts like. But it’s the saving truth that the holy Lord God in his amazing grace makes it possible for your failures and sins in this life to be removed and forgiven forever through the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. Hold on!
Sometimes we get wrapped up in the beauty of this world, trying desperately to hold on to it. And then evil happens. The wars explode all around. The innocent children are shot or run over by a car. You see the ugliness of this world. You see the ugliness of sin. You see that ugliness in your own life and in your own heart. The guilt over your sins and actions that cause hurt to others. The anger and fear and frustration and despair of other’s actions that affect you. What’s the temptation when these things happen? The temptation is to think that God has forgotten about this world that he’s no longer in control. That’s exactly what so many people wrestle with. If there is a loving God, how can there be so much evil in this world? We are tempted to give up on God. But listen to Jesus. He warns you because he knew these things would happen. He warns you because he doesn’t want you to be frightened but to hold on. Hold on to what? Hold on to his promise that the end of the story of this world is already written and it’s a beautiful ending! Spoiler alert…Jesus overcame your sin with his sacrifice on the cross, and his resurrection conquered death so he lives and reigns as Lord and Savior and will come on the last day to raise you up to eternal life with him in a new and perfect home. No matter what happens in this life, no matter how wicked and evil the world around you may become, the story is written – salvation is secured and is yours in faith. So, hold on to your Savior through the dark days of the life lived in this world.
If you were to plan for a trip overseas somewhere, you could go to the US State Department website and see the advisories that they share for your safety and security. They share warnings and signs for you to watch out for. Why? It’s not because they don’t want to you to leave our country, but they want you to be aware of any possible dangers and prepared if a crisis did come up. With those warnings in mind you can go and enjoy the beauties and adventures of travel.
So often we hold onto the things of this world and distress when this world that we hang onto isn’t so beautiful. What is your hope holding on to? Jesus warns you of the dangers around you, but gives you every reason to hold on to him and to hope for something better. Hold on!
While the signs of the end that Jesus described will affect this sinful world until he comes again, Jesus also warns about the more personal attacks that will confront your life as a Christian. He warned the disciples that they would be imprisoned, brought before kings and governors, betrayed by family and friends and even put to death all for their faith and commitment to Jesus. The Lord says the same things will happen to you.
This is such an important warning, because when someone attacks you because of your faith, ridicules you, makes relationships hard for you because of what you believe, when you are personally attacked, that’s when your heart questions whether it is worth it. It’s at that moment that Satan will try to pry you away from Jesus and tell you it’s not worth it. But Jesus encourages you to hold on even in persecution.
Why should I embrace persecution for my faith in Jesus when it comes my way? One…only clinging to Jesus as Savior can you enter into heaven. The one who stand firm to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:13). Two…persecution gives you an opportunity to be a witness of God’s grace in Jesus to an audience that desperately needs him. The apostle Paul was imprisoned and put on trial before some of the most powerful leaders of his time. He proclaimed Jesus to them. When you are ridiculed for your faith, the words and actions that you use to respond, with which God promises to equip you, can be a powerful witness to Jesus Christ and his forgiving love. Three…even if persecution would lead to your death in this life, your eternal life is secure in the almighty, saving hands of God. Hold on!
The temple in Jerusalem no longer stands. It was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 AD. This beautiful church building will one day meet same fate. But God’s church will endure forever, just as it has endured throughout time. How? God’s people continue to hold on to his promises of forgiveness and life found in Jesus. Even when the world is crashing down around you, even when the attacks of unbelievers are striking against you, hold on to Jesus. The day is coming when all things will be made new, when victory in Jesus will be realized, when the evils of this day will be flung far away and replaced with heaven. Hold on! Amen.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (www.gracedowntown.org) on November 17, 2019