How do we take heart when everything around us seems to be falling down? In our gospel lesson this morning that’s what appears to be happening. Jesus speaks of terrible events, but in the midst of it all he encourages the disciples to take heart. Let’s explore more together.
Scripture: Luke 21: 5-19
This is a difficult passage. It’s a hard passage to read and can be difficult to understand. Why the conflict, didn’t Jesus come to bring peace? If so why is he saying people will hate us because of his name? What’s going on here? As always, context matters. For this passage, it’s not just the context of where it fits in Luke’s gospel, but the historical context of when this passage was written.
Those who participated in the bible study on Mark will see similarities from Mark 13, which like this passage is apocalyptic scripture. Not apocalypse as in the end of the world, but of revealing a deeper truth and meaning.
This is a passage about hardship and suffering as a result of what you believe. That’s a hard thing for us in Canada, even living in a post-Christendom society, to understand. However, the passage also moves past the suffering we might endure and speaks to how we might respond.
True persecution of the Christian community has often matched the description that Luke says that Jesus prophesied. Whether they be fictionalized accounts like that from the modern novel, Silence by Shusako Endo, or historical accounts from the early second and third century, a common thread exists: as part of their “testimony” before their persecutors, Christians are often forced to choose between denying the name of Jesus Christ or death.
In The Martyrdom of Perpetua (203 AD) in the Roman Empire city of Carthage (North Africa), a young noblewoman named Perpetua was one of a number of Christians put to death for being a Christian. She wrote about not only being pressured by the authorities, but also by her father. Her writings highlight how the Holy Spirit guided her witness leading up to her martyrdom.
She begins, “While I was still with the police authorities my father out of love for me tried to dissuade me from my resolution. ‘Father,’ I said, ‘do you see here, for example, this vase, or pitcher, or whatever it is?’ ‘I see it,’ he said. ‘Can it be named anything else than what it really is?’ I asked, and he said, ‘No.’ ‘So I also cannot be called anything else than what I am, a Christian.’ Enraged by my words my father came at me as though to tear out my eyes…”
Later Perpetua, along with other converts, was “baptized, and the Spirit instructed me not to request anything from the baptismal waters except endurance of physical suffering. A few days later we were imprisoned.”
The rest of her account depicts the pressure to renounce the faith from family and police, the experience of being imprisoned, and the visions God gave her leading up to her death. These visions guided her in what to pray for, say, and do as she faced martyrdom. Like many other Christians throughout history, the Holy Spirit gave her the words to say as her defense when she needed them. Illustration provided by the Centre for Excellence in Preaching)
When Luke writes, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” this is as much about events which have already occurred as it is about future conflicts. This passage speaks to the difficulty and suffering that following Jesus might bring. In our society we can’t imagine these types of conflicts. However, there are places in the world where being a Christian can be a death sentence. And there are places in the world where practicing another faith can result in hardship. This passage talks about that hardship that the disciples would face, and which Luke’s community was facing.
This passage from Luke is very similar to Mark 13. It is a passage where the author, Luke, is using a conversation of Jesus to inform the first readers about how to handle the conflict and suffering that might arise.
Luke 21 needs to be properly situated in its historic context for us to understand what it is telling us. It is not predicting when the end of the world will occur, it is referencing events that have already happened and will continue to happen.
Chelsey Harmon writes, “Luke likely wrote his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles around 80 AD. In other words, Luke already knew how the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and had already witnessed the persecution of the church and its leaders. Luke lived through and witnessed new followers of the Jesus Way be put to death for their clinging to the name of Jesus. In fact, scholars point out that what Luke writes here describes the experience of the church in the book of Acts.” (Chelsey Harmon – Luke 21:5-19 – Center for Excellence in Preaching (cepreaching.org))
This passage is self-referential. It speaks to events which have happened and are continuing to happen. While it appears to be doom and gloom and the end of the world, this passage is a pastoral response to the church about how to respond to the suffering and division happening within society. Luke uses a conversation with the disciples to demonstrate this pastoral response. People ask Jesus for help knowing that something awful might happen. Jesus is very honest with them; he provides advice and then descriptions of the suffering that will come. This is suffering that Luke’s community has already experienced and will see more of.
What is the response that Jesus indicates is necessary when we face times of trouble, suffering, and persecution?
To trust in Jesus, to trust that the Holy Spirit will provide us with the words and the courage to live out our faith.
Verse 14 translates hearts as minds. However, the Greek word used is kardia which is heart. This may be because this is how we think and process things. However, Jesus says heart, not mind. There are other instances when Jesus references our minds, but here he is intentional about speaking to how our hearts are oriented. Specifically, that we aren’t prepared in advance but rather that we trust that Jesus will supply what we need. We don’t always need heads full of knowledge, sometimes we have to trust in our hearts that we have and will be supplied with what we require.
This is the pastoral element of this passage. To trust deep in our hearts that Jesus walks with us, that Jesus himself has endured this suffering and understands the pain it brings. More than that, Jesus promises to provide us with the resources needed to see the day through. It’s a pastoral letter and a request, to trust in Jesus. Amen.
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