God’s Word for You
Luke 21:5-6 and 7-9 wars and uproars
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, February 21, 2019
Yesterday’s weather kept me occupied with a shovel. Please accept these two devotions today.
5 Some of them were talking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But he said, 6 “As for these things you see here, the days will come when there will not be one stone left on another. All will be thrown down.”
Godet (A Commentary on Luke, 1870) thinks that some of the people listening to Jesus might have objected to his remark about the widow’s contribution, thinking “that if only such gifts as the widow’s had been made in that holy place, those magnificent structures and those rich offerings would not have existed” (p. 443). This line of thought seems likely, but of course we can’t say for certain. What we do know is that Jesus is leading his disciples into an important lesson about the last days, and he elegantly uses their natural awe of the beauty of the temple to introduce the subject.
At the same time, the Lord does not disparage the gift of beautiful things to God’s church. He forbids us to make images of false gods from any material (Exodus 20:23; Leviticus 19:4), and perhaps we should consider this in the realms of art and even music. This doesn’t mean that we should break into museums and smash pagan artifacts or tear up drawings our children make of unicorns. But when we consider what we will make in the future, what we will set our hands to do, we should think about “whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8), and especially our Lord Jesus Christ.
As for decorating our churches, we should consider first of all whether or not they will serve as places where Christians can gather to hear the word of God as it is preached. We are living in a remarkable time, when people are living longer and longer lives. Many people are living active lives well into their nineties, and there are Christians in their hundreds who still faithfully come to church. We should provide adequate means for them to enter, without stairways, without obstacles, with good access from vehicles, especially on days when wind and weather make traveling difficult. There are many other things to consider in the design of a church. Do we emphasize the word and the sacraments? Is the baptismal font anywhere to be seen? How will we distribute the Lord’s Supper? Do we need visual help, like a projection screen? Is there a place for a choir? But with regard to how beautiful the sanctuary is, there is no command from God forbidding beauty. In fact, when God gave his people directions about building the tabernacle, he told them to use many beautiful things: “gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen” (Exodus 25:3-4). As long as we remember to rely on our Creator and not things that are created, we will keep things in their right perspective. What lasts forever are souls. We work as the Christian church to care for souls, and to win more and more souls for eternity. The time will come when Jesus’ prophecy, “not one stone will be left on another,” will apply to the entire created world. Until that day, we carry on with the work of proclaiming the gospel until he comes.
Mark tells us that what follows was spoken still on Tuesday, but outside the city, “on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple” (Mark 13:3). We shall withhold comments about that part of the account for our devotions on Mark’s Gospel. Mark also adds that the disciples who asked Jesus this question (Luke merely has “they”) were his original four followers: Peter, James, John and Andrew. So much had happened since that day in Galilee when the Savior had called them to follow him! Now here they were one last time, just the five of them together. They trusted Jesus completely. They loved him and believed in his divinity. His response was not just for them, but for all Christians.
7 They asked, “Teacher, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
When? When? It was a trend in certain 19th and early 20th Century commentaries to claim that Jesus thought the end would come immediately. This was not the case at all. The disciples needed to be taught to look for the signs without assuming it would be a long way off, and so Jesus’ language about the last days is both immediate and leisurely. This produces two attitudes in the Christian heart which are both necessary:
1, We carry out the work of the church, making long-range plans,
as if the end will not come for a thousand years or more.
2, We repent of our sins and carry out mission work as if the end
will come this very afternoon.
8 He said, “Watch out so that you are not deceived! For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.
Jesus warns about false teachers; false Christs. They will be bold. They will insist that they are Jesus: “I am he!” And they will make false predictions about the end: “The time is near (at hand).” Jesus’ first commentary on them is simple and to the point: Do not follow them. Anyone who sets himself up as Christ is an antichrist. In our time, there is a trend among convicted murderers to claim they are Christ. There are also those who come out of all sorts of different circumstances to claim that they are the true Messiah. Any list of them would only fall short of the true number. A comprehensive study of their lives would be nauseating. An analysis of their teachings would be best summed up by Jesus in this verse by itself. A better study would always be of the Bible.
9 When you hear of wars and uproars, do not be frightened. For these things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
Things like wars (conflicts between nations) and “uproars” (uprisings and conflicts within a nation) are not signs that the end is imminent, but reminders that the end is on its way. The end, however, “will not come right away.” It will come when the time is right; when everything has been accomplished.
Professor Thomas Nass said that “the signs of the end are like God knocking on the door of the world. He wants to get our attention, so he allows a famine or disease to spread. He allows evil to grow in strength. That is God knocking on the door, indicating that the world is on the way out. That is God knocking on the door, telling us he is coming soon” (End Times, p. 67). When it comes to faith, treat the end as if it is coming today, as if the sky is about to tear apart and the angel who will sound the final trumpet is already taking his deep breath. Do not be deceived by those who claim what only Jesus himself can claim! Be comforted. Jesus has you in the palm of his hand. His blood covers your sins already. His love shields you right now. His hand is stretched out to receive you into your heavenly home. Yet there is a little time—the mouthpiece of the angel’s trumpet is not quite touching his lips—to reach out to one more person today; one more person tomorrow; one more person the day after that…
Pastor Timothy Smith