God himself is present in our opportunities to witness
Third in a series of four
Luke 21:5–28 // 2 Thes. 3:6–13 // Malachi 4:1–6
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text is Jesus addressing his disciples in the middle of this end times discourse: “This will be your opportunity to bear witness.... I will give you a mouth and wisdom.” Our text thus far.
Dear friends in Christ,
God himself is present. Two weeks ago, we saw God himself present underneath the sycamore tree, with his own presence changing everything. Last week, we saw God himself present in the burning bush, with his own presence to save his people from their slavery. Today, we hear Jesus speaking of the end times, even as he assures us that God himself is present in our opportunities to witness.
What comes to mind when you think about witnessing? Perhaps you think of far off countries, of exotic peoples. Perhaps you think of open-top jeeps running through the Sahara, of translating Bibles into foreign languages. Perhaps you think of great debates, standing up for what you believe with apologetics and arguments and logic. Perhaps you think of being put on trial for Christianity, having to stand before the Supreme Court and state what you believe.
What comes to mind when you think about witnessing? All of that is certainly a part of witnessing. The Apostles were sent to exotic places. The apostles spoke in tongues-not-their-own on Pentecost. Jesus even says here that they will stand in front of kings and governors. That all sounds in some ways scary, in other was exciting, and in most ways, way out there. You see, many of us can fall into a distorted view of witnessing, as if there’s our ordinary life over here, and over here, there are these strange and awkward conversations, like witnessing is one totally separated activity that you only do when someone asks you, Who is Jesus? That’s an important question, but it’s the only one.
So, what does it mean to witness? Two points for our meditation on Luke 21 today, point number one is to consider the context of our witness. Point number two is to consider the content of our witness.
First, we consider the context of witnessing. At least the context that Jesus gives for witnessing. Did you notice that in the reading? It’s all about the end times, and it’s really bad. The main message in our text isn’t hard to miss; the main message is that things are going to get worse: wars will be worse, conflicts will be deeper, the earth will groan more, Christianity will come under scrutiny, and even family relationships will be strained.
The sun and the moon and the stars are going to give signs, the sea and the earth will be in distress, and people will be ruled by fear. That is the context of our witness. A world increasingly troubled, lives increasingly filled with fear, a place where hope feels far away.
So, what do you say in times like those? We’ve been living in and with these end times ever since Jesus died. Much of what Jesus said came to pass in the lives of the apostles: they were brought before kings, they were tortured, they were martyred, they saw the easy and the comfortable fall away, and more than that. Almost all of us have seen tragedy, have been around hardship, have felt as though fear rules us, sin rules us, trouble never leaves us.
So, what do you say in times like those? Well, point number two for today is that witnessing is often doing ordinary Christian things in extraordinary circumstances. Doing ordinary Christian things in extraordinary circumstances. What does that mean? Let me explain.
C.S. Lewis says it really well in a short essay called “Living in an Atomic Age”: He published this little essay in 1948, after the United States dropped the first atomic bombs on Japan. How are we to live in an age when we can destroy ourselves, in an instant? He says it so well that I quote him at length: "How then should we live? Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents… This is the first point to be made:”
Lewis reminds us that humanity has always lived in the extreme. There has always been tragedy. The temptation to live in fear has always been near. He goes on...
“And the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things - praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts - not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.”
His point answers his question, How do we live in an atomic age? We live by doing sensible and human things: loving, laughing, caring, helping, sharing the love of Christ.
What does it mean to witness in times like these? To do ordinary Christian things in extraordinary circumstances.
To witness as a Christian is to stand in front of governors and kings just like the apostles -- as fishermen turned disciples turned apostles speaking the same Gospel they spoke among the twelve huddled in with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, the same Gospel they spoke on the extraordinary day of Pentecost, the same Gospel they spoke on the ordinary days following, the same Gospel that Stephen the first martyr spoke on the day of his death, the same Gospel in fact that they have passed down to you and to me: Christ the fulfillment of the Scriptures has died for our sins and rises to give me new life, and since my life is hidden in him, I don’t need to fear anything in this life even when I am afraid. I am not ruled by anything except by his love. I am only motivated by his grace. I find strength where he promises strength can be found.
To witness as a Christian is to change a dirty diaper knowing that you are in that moment being the very hands of God providing comfort and support for his dear child.
To witness as a Christian is to be both gentle and firm when you talk to your children at noon, and to be gentle and firm to your children when they’ve woken you up for the fourth time and it’s 2am.
To witness as a Christian is to mouth thank you in the hospital to your ICU nurse even when she’s adjusting your breathing tube and it hurts.
To witness as a Christian is to say, “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” on Easter morning full of joy and to say, “He is risen indeed, Alleluia!” as you lay your loved one to rest.
To witness as a Christian is to know that the Apostle’s Creed that you say in the congregation today is the creed that you may someday have to say in front of kings and governor, and is certainly the creed that you will confess before Jesus Christ on the Last Day.
To witness as a Christian is to know the truths of the Gospel that you’ve known from your mother’s knee, and to know them for all your whole life long, to say them on the days when it’s easy and skies are clear, and to say them on days when it’s not easy too.
The context of our witness is the increasingly extraordinary suffering of humanity under sin that will continue until Jesus comes back. The content of our witness is the ordinary Christian truth that rules us, that Jesus who died for our sins is raised for our life, and it’s true in every chapter of our lives.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town that God has been and is still taking through all of the joys and troubles of life. There are people gathered who are having the best day ever, sitting next to others whose lives could not get any worse. And yet, they hear the same sermon together. They share the same hope, the hope of the Gospel, together. They speak the same truths together, and during their ordinary days, these truths lead them on. On their extraordinary days, they find themselves to be in awe of what they have always known.
Amen and amen.
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