April 9, 2023

Your Redemption is Drawing Near (Luke 21:25-31)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2022-2023) Topic: One Mission: Until I Come Scripture: Luke 21:25–31

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Children's Lesson (click here) 

I. Released But Waiting

Let me paint a picture for you and I want you to visualize yourself right in the middle of it. At some point in history, on some island location in one of the world's oceans, you are a... slave. And you are suffering under the weight of the absolute worst that word implies. But after a very long time of suffering, a very long time in those shackles, something has changed. A man has sent a letter stating he will come and buy you and all your fellow slaves out of your miserable bondage. Moreover, beyond that transaction, this man has also given you a promise: when he pays that price, he will bring all of your to the mainland, and... provide you with everything you need for a new life. It's an amazing turn of events!

Sure enough, one day, the man arrives. And he does in fact sign a transfer agreement and pay the enormous price required to secure your release. Though you guarded your heart and tried to temper your hopes, everything is happening just as the man said! But then... tragedy strikes. You learn that the man is dead. Can you imagine the disappointment, worse still, the despair you would face after learning about his death? Everything has seemingly come crashing down. But within days, there is another unthinkable development in the story. The man, this man who promised you new life and paid to make it happen, this man is... alive again!

And it's right there... in that moment when hope is rekindled... it's right there when anticipation, where expectation begin to burn brightly. The price has been paid, the transaction completed, and you are free. But... you are still on the island. The man's ship to the mainland has not arrived. You've begun a brand new life, but it isn't... completed.

Take that picture, if you would, and bring it with you as you look with me at the Gospel of Luke, chapter 21. This beautiful Easter morning, we will be focusing together on verses 25-31 of this chapter, one of the chapters from Our Bible Reading Plan this past week.


II. The Passage: “The Kingdom of God is Near” (21:25-31)

Before I begin reading in verse 25, it's helpful to note the context here. Earlier in this chapter, in verses 5 and 6, Jesus has foretold the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Verse 6,

As for these things that you see [i.e., the impressive temple buildings], the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

His disciples then ask about the timing of these tragic events. Verse 7... “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” So, although often misunderstood, it is that conversation which defines the context for our passage this morning. So look with me at where Jesus takes that same conversation in verse 25...

And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, [26] people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. [27] And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. [28] Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” [29] And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. [30] As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. [31] So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”

Okay. Wait a minute. That conversation about the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple just got a lot bigger and broader, right? Now Jesus is talking about “the powers of the heavens” being “shaken”, and “the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and glory”, and the “kingdom of God [coming] near”. What exactly is going on here? Well, Jesus is clearly connecting the end of that Temple with the end of the present age; or as some might say, with the 'end of the world'. But there's a problem with all this: that Temple was destroyed exactly when Jesus said it would be destroyed. Look at verse 32... “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.” And that's what happened. Less than forty years after Jesus foretold that destruction, it came to pass. Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by Roman armies in 70 AD (in fact, that was the “Jerusalem surrounded by armies” that Jesus talked about in verse 20).

So if the Temple was destroyed just as Jesus said, what about his return and the end of the age? Didn't Jesus connect these events? Yes, he did. But not in the way we think. Moving backwards through the passage, let me given you three simple ideas that I hope will help us make sense of this:

First, there definitely are signs to look for in terms of God's plan. Jesus provides a parable to that effect in verses 29 and 30. Just as trees give an indication that summer is near when they begin to sprout and blossom in the spring, Jesus tells his disciples that there will also be signs of the Kingdom's nearness. What should they look for? Verse 31... “when you see these things taking place.” What things? They're right there in verses 8-26. Those are all things to look for in regard to the timing of (remember verses 6 and 7) the timing of the Temple's destruction.

Second, Jesus speaks here in the style of an Old Testament (OT) prophet. Listen to the following OT passages and consider what they predict:

For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light... Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the LORD of hosts in the day of his fierce anger. (Isaiah 13:10, 13)

All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree. (Isaiah 34:4)

When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens and make their stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give its light. (Ezekiel 32:7)

For thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. (Haggai 2:6)

Sounds like the end of the world, right? Actually, those are judgment oracles that already came to pass against the following ancient nations: Babylon, Edom, and Egypt. And that last verse is related to the restoration of the Jerusalem Temple under the Persians, some 500 years before the time of Christ. You see, the prophets of the OT often used this kind of hyperbolic, earth-shaking and universe-shaking language to describe massive, divine shake-ups in the geo-political orders of their day. The language is so similar that I believe Jesus is doing the same thing here in verses 25 and 26.

Okay, a third idea to make sense of this passage: all of these signs and shake-ups alert are meant to alert us to His nearness. This really is the most important point. Did you notice how the word “near” is repeated here, once at the end of verse 28, once at the end of verse 30, and once at the end of verse 31? As a geopolitical shake-up in first century Israel began to unfold, Jesus instructed his disciples to let those troubling events drive them toward vigilance and not fear. As their world felt like it was coming to an end, they were called to (v. 28) “straighten up and raise your heads”. Don't you love that? The language seems to imply someone who is, at first, bent over with his or her head hung low. But the reality of their coming “redemption”, the reality of His coming “kingdom”, is meant to inspire a radical change in posture: “straighten up and raise your heads”.

So what does all of this tell us about the timing of Christ's return? Well, when we take the whole New Testament (NT) into account, I think the only thing we can say for sure is that after 70AD, after the 'Temple time frame' he gives us here, and (v. 24) “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled”, Jesus and the reality of his coming kingdom has drawn near and remains near to us in a way it never has before. In Mark's account of the same teaching, this expression is preserved: “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” (Mark 13:29) Nearness. This reality was so precious to the first Christians, that you can find it in passages as diverse at Philippians 4:5, James 5:8, and 1 Peter 4:7.


III. Powerful Proof

Alright. OT prophets? The Temple in Jerusalem? The Romans and 70AD? It's all interesting, but what does any of it have to do with you? With us today... especially on this beautiful Easter morning? Brothers and sisters, friends, here's the connection: we are those island-bound, former slaves. We have been bought with a price. That's what the word “redemption” means. And the reality that Jesus has risen from the dead isn't simply a fantastic curiosity, or confirmation of his divine identity (it is absolutely that). But it also means Jesus will finish what he started.

When Jesus cried “It is finished!” before he died on the cross, it meant the transfer agreement had been signed and the price was paid. But it didn't mean the completion of the implementation of that finished work. You see, we are the ones waiting for that ship, the one that will take us to a new life in the mainland; to that “better country” of Hebrews 11:16, to the place Jesus has prepared for us. The Scriptures confirm that right now we have a new life as those purchased and set free. But we are also patiently waiting. The Apostle Paul wrote about this very thing...

...we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. [24] For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? [25] But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:23–25)

What is Easter? Easter is powerful proof that Jesus will finish the rescue he began. The Resurrection looks backwards and forwards, doesn't it? His victory over death confirms that Jesus really did pay the price; that his sacrifice was effective. That's looking back to the cross. But it also looks forward, confirming that Jesus is alive and well today. Therefore, His plan to rescue and restore all things is on track, and cannot be stopped... just as he couldn't be stopped, not even by death.

But do you believe that? This morning, you may be bent over by the heaviness of life. This morning, your head may be hanging low as you battle with shame and guilt, or with fear and doubt. But God's word to you this Easter is the word declared by Jesus almost two-thousand years ago: “...straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Does that mean Jesus is coming back tomorrow? He might. But since, as the Apostle Peter (using the language of Psalm 90... as Peter) reminds us in 2 Peter 3:8, “that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day”, we cannot know when Jesus will enter return through those “gates”. But we can know that he is there even now, and therefore very near with full and final “redemption”, and a “kingdom” that will change everything. And no one and nothing can stop His nearness from becoming a face to face reality. As Paul wrote, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Shouldn't that inspire us? Again, Easter is powerful proof that Jesus will finish the rescue he began. He lives, even now. That certainly means, in the words of Hebrews 7:25, that “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” But it also means that “...when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.” (Hebrews 10:12-13) That plan cannot be stopped!

If you have been redeemed by the blood, that is, by the offered up life, of Jesus Christ, then your full and final redemption is drawing near. Even when you are struggling and tired, even when people are hurtful and things seem uncertain, even when it seems our world is coming to an end, your redemption is drawing near. Nothing can stop that.

So brother, sister, “straighten up and raise your head”. Keep walking, or walk again in the joyful confidence and empowering hope of Christ's promise... “your redemption is drawing near”. His words have come to pass, and his words will come to pass... “your redemption is drawing near”.

And when all this does come to pass, what will that full and final redemption look like? It will look like Easter, because it will mean resurrection. Listen to this description in 1 Thessalonians 4:16–18...

For the Lord himself [he who “is near, at the very gates”] will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. [17] Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. [18] Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Be encouraged this Resurrection Day. Be encouraged. Easter is powerful proof that Jesus will finish what he started; that he will complete the rescue he began. As Jesus promised us in another Gospel, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:18) Let's thank Him now for these “precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:4)


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