Always Awake And Alert
1. Starting today we enter Advent season. In the church calendar the new year starts today. This name "Advent" is linked etymologically to the Latin "adventus" and means "arrival, coming." This matter of "coming" is surely none other than the "coming" of Christ. In other words, it is the time we remember how the people of Israel have been waiting long in expectation for the Christ, while at the same time it is the time we remember the second coming of Christ at the end-times. Therefore, although this period of time is placed at the beginning of the church calendar we could say that this time period is substantially more deeply related to "the end" rather than "the beginning."
2. By the way, the word we use for "the end" can have two meanings. It can mean the fulfilment or realization of what one was aiming at or waiting for, so it is an "end" which is a new beginning; in other words, we could call it a goal achieved. But, on the other hand, everything returns to nothing like popped bubbles in sea foam, so it is an "end" like a catastrophic end where things wind up in a vain cycle of meaninglessness. As an example of the way these two nuances for "end" is used, please think about something familiar like college entrance examinations. There is a dire difference in meaning of "end, over" between a person who shouts "It's over!" after he or she finishes an exam as part of his or her achievements and the one who mutters "It's over..." even before he or she has the blank test paper in his or her hands. In a similar vein, what might we say is a lot more important than one mere exam? We could say the end of one's life. Or even the closing out of world history. So, when people think about the two meanings of "the end" both of the meanings for end are strongly related to the present. We do not have a present now that is unrelated to a future end. I think we could say our way of being at the end is decided with reference to our present. The present determines the end. We could say this period called "Advent" is a time for thinking about our present while we look hard at our end. Today during this first Lord's day service in Advent, I would like for us to focus our listening on the words spoken by Christ concerning "the end."
The Downfall Of Jerusalem
3. Today we read chapter twenty-one and verse twenty-five from the Gospel of Luke. However, in order to understand this passage better, first I would like to touch upon the verses back up a bit at verse twenty on down. There it refers to an event Christ was able to call one of "the ends." "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by troops, perceive that its downfall has drawn near," (verse twenty). That event was fulfilled in history approximately forty years after Jesus said it.
4. In the twelfth chapter of Acts, Herod Agrippa appears. He respected the Jewish mindset of things so that if we compare his rule to the rule of the Roman governor-generals up to that point in time, his reign was comparatively peaceful. But, the way it looks in Acts 12:23, he experienced a sudden death [for a sin he committed]. It was the year A.D. 44. From then on Judea came again under the direct administration of governor-generals as a Roman province. Then, the governor-generals of those days repeatedly committed errors and actions that rubbed against the religious sentiments of the Jews and there swiftly arose anti-Roman feelings among the Jewish populace. The effect of this was that at last in A.D. 66 the state of affairs, which had been centered around the Zealot Party and the chief priests, erupted into the first stage of the Jewish Wars. Rome was delayed in suppressing it because of its own civil rebellions, but finally in A.D. 70 it was successful in quelling the uprising with the fall of Jerusalem and the incineration of the temple. Jerusalem fell to ruins and the temple collapsed exactly as the Lord had so said it would.
5. Well, amid this particular catastrophic event a fanaticism arose over the end of the world. Since this end-time mania occurs frequently in our day as well, our imaginations easily connect with this. However, the Lord was not mixing this event with the end of the world. Rather, the Lord here was touching upon "the era of the Gentiles, (verse twenty-four)." The gospel was being directed to the Gentiles. So, he was speaking to the Gentiles about his calling them to repentance and his invitation to them to salvation. So, there is that period of time "until the era of the Gentiles closes." Therefore, he touched upon the events of the latter end-times. There must have been an important recognition of this, especially in the church's context after the fall of Jerusalem. For us today it is an important point of recognition. We should not simply tie an historical event with the end of this world. Better, while the end comes by means of the completion of the fixed period of the time of the Gentiles (it is translated as 'the time is full'), our recognition of our being somewhere in that fixed period of time on its way to completion is important. In other words, we don't make as our center focus "How do we know it is 'the time of the end' based on the ups and downs of events?; instead, we make the center of our focus "How we should live right now?"
The End Of The Age
6. Having dealt with the above section, I would like to read you this section starting with verse twenty-five. "After this, signs will appear in the sun, the moon, and the stars. The sea will rise up in agitation upon the land and people of many nations will fall to anxiety not knowing what they should do. People will lose heart having fear and dread over what is happening in this world because heavenly bodies will be shaken and moved. At that time, people will see the son of man come riding on the clouds wielding great power and glory. When these kinds of things begin to take place, get yourselves up and raise your heads because the time of your deliverance is near," (vv. 25-28).
7. The Lord is illustrating with two symbols the end of the world as "a world that collapses." The first one is a sign in the heavenly bodies. For persons of antiquity heavenly bodies represented something one could depend on since they followed an unchanging and permanent order. It was, so to speak, a synonym of something which could not be shaken by anything. But, the Lord says those "heavenly bodies will be shaken and moved." What might this mean? It turns out that there isn't anything worth putting one's trust in. It means that everything which humanity has taken as a certainty will collapse. The second symbol is a sign on the sea. What in the world does it mean that "The sea will rise up in agitation?" For persons of antiquity the sea was a power that brought about original chaos. He was saying here how this power of chaos would be set loose. That is, the Lord was saying through these two symbols that the order of this world will collapse and turn to chaos.
8. Christ obviously did not have an optimistic view of history where humankind would mature along with his/her developments in science and civilization, and that society would go on to become an ideal society that preserved the order in it. He must have had this view because he knew better than anyone that the many problems of this world were not simply from the immature ignorance of humans or their foolishness, rather it all derived from the sin of persons who went against God. As for trying to eradicate the serious problem of sin inside of humans, the Lord did not relate any illusions that if we could just change the system and change the structure of society humans would be saved. He did not relate any naive dreams of "a state of letting everyone hold each other's hands and the world would be peaceful." Where he was at was the place of complete realism that looked hard at the sin of humans and the effects of that sin. Moreover, just as the sin of the Jews provoked the collapse of Jerusalem, the same process is going on through out the entire world. This was the end-times of the world spoken about by Christ.
9. However, the world will not have an ending that is just plain catastrophe. The Lord spoke further about this matter. "At that time, people will see the son of man come riding on the clouds wielding great power and glory," (v. 27). The final judge is coming. The church has called this "the second coming of Christ." The expression "riding on the clouds" comes from the book of Daniel, (Daniel 7:13). What this means is that he is coming out of heaven and not as a person belonging to the land. He is coming wielding the authority of God having a transhistorical and a supernatural essence. So, he will establish with perfect form the rule of God using righteous judgment. The salvation of this world and its renewal comes because he has risen above history along with righteous judgment. What we confess each week will come to fulfilment."From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead."
10. "When these kinds of things begin to take place, get yourselves up and raise your heads because the time of your deliverance is near," (v. 28). The end-times is not some simple catastrophe or to be an object of dread. We can raise our heads at that time. People can raise their heads at that time if they know the final judge as the one who was once hung on the cross to redeem our sins. A person can raise his or her head and get himself or herself up at that time if he or she has been forgiven of sin through the name of the one who was hung on the cross; a person can raise his or her head and get himself or herself up at that time if he or she has turned to God, has lived with God and has waited in hope for the complete revealing of God's control. This day is, for the person who has been waiting in hope for it, nothing other than the day of salvation which we have been speaking about. Of course, righteous judgment will be there at that time also. The person who was thinking that he or she is the center focus or the person who has lived in judgment of others with his or her own self as the standard of judgment is not the center focus at all, but should come to the realization that he or she is a being that will fall under judgment. The time will come when it will be made clear that a human is neither the owner of his or her life nor the captain of his or her destiny. For the person who used to think the self was owner and master, that will be a time when he or she certainly ought to be afraid.
11. Many of us still get to wanting to ask a question on this, which is, when might we expect this to happen? Some people are sure to come on the scene suggesting "It will be in 1999," or "It will be October of this year." Many people are beguiled and begin to get excited over it. But, the Lord did not tell when it would be. Instead he gave the following example. "Look at the fig tree and all other trees. When their leaves begin to bud, as you see that, you understand automatically that summer has already drawn close. In the same way as that, as you see these things taking place, realize that the kingdom of God is drawing close," (vv. 29-31).
12. You could understand "these things" as everything written from 21:7 onward. The persecution of the disciples written about in that text had become a reality. The downfall of Jerusalem had become a reality as well. While we could also say that the signs in the heavenly bodies and the sea did not materialize, yet on the other hand things taken for granted as a certainty had collapsed one after the other, and in a sense there already had appeared a letting loose of disorder and the power of chaos. At any rate, the important thing was that just as the summer is sure to come, the kingdom of God is sure to come as well. The end is sure to come. So, just as the seasons never go backwards, you can bank on it that this world is also drawing close to the day of the end. This is something you really ought to understand because the word of the Lord does not have as its purpose to predict and give advanced notice of any time sequence heading for the end of it all. Such a trifle activity as that is better off left to some category of occult "special prophecies." With the Lord the important thing is "the present, the now." It's a matter of how one ought to live right now because the present is not unrelated to the end. The way of being in the present determines which type of end you will have.
So That Your Hearts Don't Become Dulled
13. Thereupon, the Lord continued speaking. "Be careful that your hearts don't become dulled by loose living, heavy drinking, and living in worries. Otherwise, that day will advance on you all of a sudden like a trap; for that day rushes in on all persons who live everywhere on the face of the earth. But you, pray and always be awake so that after escaping all these things which will take place, you are able to stand before the son of man," (vv. 34-36).
14. He did not mention the end-times so you would to have people make a fuss over it. As a rule the Lord does not want for us to go running around with weird behavior all excited telling others that the end is near. What he said about the end-times is so we are actually calm and live strongly with endurance amid the highs and the lows of our trials. It is so that we discern between what is really important and not, and we live strongly with endurance and from a pure and clear conscience. This world is a place in a mad pursuit of immediate pleasures, short-term satisfaction, and ephemeral enjoyments. We also live in a heaving sea of cravings for "more happiness... more satisfaction... more perfection... more pleasure." In such an undulation of desires, before one even knows it, his or her "heart has become dulled" by familiarity and the "same ol' same ol'." Once again, this world is a place in a wild rush chasing for quickie solutions and sales on salvation. It is certain that as long as we live in this world we will not lack stress or sorrow or any kind of worry. But, the real tragedy is when everyone myopically chases after the solution to a problem that is right before their eyes and like a bicycle that would fall when it stood still they make the wheel turn on and on and they turn around and around in the same place and will not come to a stop to stand still in the midst of their impatience and irritation. As we get in the middle of their senseless and sorrowful spin and continue to run in the same tiring way and don't understand why, we forget the end which is definitely coming though we are unaware, and we forget the end that we should wait for in hope, therefore we forget what are the important things and our "hearts become dulled" at last.
15. The Lord said, "Be careful that your hearts don't become dulled." So, that statement is the meaning of the end-times which was spoken about here. You must be careful so that the end does not come in unexpected form. You and I must wake up. With that the Lord says "Always be awake and pray." The problem is that we forget God and pretty soon we end up forgetting that we will stand before the Lord of the second coming. "Always...pray" is nothing but always living with God in our presence, and living with hope and expectation for the Lord. Don't be mistaken. The fact is the end is not in our hands. We live awake and aware of the One shaping the end in his hands. We live and seek the heart of this One whose hands make the end. We live and seek the kingdom of God. We live in hope and expectation of that time when the Lord comes. Hence, we live facing a conclusion which comes with certainty and an end which is certainly coming. That is this matter of "always be alert and pray." I repeat: the end is not unrelated to the present. During this time of Advent, as we each come to God, I want us to seriously consider how we live the good present while thinking about the good end.