I’ve mentioned before how Jessica and I like to watch the TV show “Deadliest Catch.” We’ve even gotten into the break-offs of the show which follow some of the fisherman around to different parts of the world. There was even a series on the crab fishing which takes place off of the coast of Oregon. Lately I’ve been getting into a show call “Lobstermen”, which is pretty much the same concept but with lobster. That show takes place off of the coast of Rhode Island.
One of the things about these shows that you will notice if you watch them is the working conditions in which these people fish. They can go out, they can leave the harbor, and the ocean water is calm and peaceful. The view is majestic and breathtaking. But then the next thing you know, these boats are fishing in waters with 15 to 20 foot waves breaking over the edge of boat, water is going over the front of the boat as they bounce through the waves. For the ones fishing in Alaska, they have to deal with the water and mist freezing to the boat. But the thing is, no matter how big the waves are, no matter how strong the wind is, no matter how dangerous the fishing is … if they are hauling in crab or lobster … the crew and captain are absolutely ecstatic, they’re thrilled. Watching the show, I can’t help but also be excited for the fishermen that they found something! In what could be an all-encompassing disaster, there are these bits of beauty and positivity.
I thought of this as I was working through the Gospel reading from Luke 21 this morning. Here’s a little of the back story to set this up. By the time of our reading, Jesus has already made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He has already ridden in on a donkey under a shower of waving palm branches and shouts of praise. During this Holy Week, Jesus was in the temple teaching the people. One of these days, between teachings, the disciples remark about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God (Luke 21:5). Jesus then changes the calm and peaceful atmosphere and offers a vision of world-encompassing disaster.
As you listen to Jesus talk about this world-encompassing disaster, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the violence and the terror which extends as far as your eye can see. Jesus talks about the destruction of the temple, about nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom, about the persecution the disciples are going to face on account of them following Christ. There will be earthquakes, famines, and pestilence, oh my! And if that isn’t enough, there are those signs from Heaven. Heaven and earth are heaving with destruction, much like monster waves breaking over the edge of a large fishing boat trying to capsize it. And the experience is tiring and overwhelming.
But yet, if you listen closely, you will hear some very small moments when Jesus invites us to trust in God’s faithfulness. Just like the fisherman raising up a pod full of crab after not catching some in the midst of rough waters … there are these moments which give us a glimmer, a glimpse of hope. Even though we are subject to the forces of judgment which we can’t control, the One who rules over all things, He alone holds you and me securely in His hand.
Remember when I said our reading takes place? This is Holy Week. Over Jesus’ ministry, but especially during these days of Holy Week, tensions have escalated. Jesus has been confronted by religious leaders, He has been questioned, tested, and plotted against. Now as the disciples leave the temple after a day of Jesus teaching, they pause. They pause not to ask Jesus questions or to have him explain His different teachings, but they pause for a moment to take in and reflect upon the beauty of the temple. Now don’t get me wrong, the temple was indeed magnificent with its massive stones, its historical significance, and all of its religious tradition. With the size of it, with its importance within the life of the people, they figured it would endure for ages. And yet maybe this is why Jesus is so direct with His words, so frightening with His vision of what is to come. Judgment, Jesus says, is coming. It’s coming and it will be like nothing the people have ever experienced before.
And this destruction is not a one and done kind of destruction. No, this destruction is going to come at Jerusalem and the people in waves. First there will be the false Christs who will claim that they are the Savior (v. 8). Then will come the governmental leaders persecuting and questioning the disciples (v. 12). After that, Jerusalem itself will fall to opposing armies (vs. 20-24). And at some point the Son of Man will be coming in a cloud with power and great glory (vs. 25-27).
As these waves of destruction roll over the disciples, Jesus offers these small little glimpses of promise, of hope. Notice that Jesus doesn’t go on and on about the destruction and then offer this great explanation of hope. No, instead, Jesus talks about the destruction which is coming, then gives this word of promise. Talks about the coming destruction, gives a word of promise. Talks about the coming destruction, and again, gives a word of promise. In the midst of the moments when the people are reeling from pain … Jesus inserts a promise.
And how true is this in our life of faith? We don’t immediately move from a world with the crashing waves of destruction trying to drown us to a quiet, peaceful and smooth land of promise. No, we instead are tested and tried with suffering, we are hit with wave after wave of suffering. Yet amidst the crashing waves, amidst the cancer, the stretching of the paycheck, to family struggles, the attack of our faith … we trust, we continue to trust in God’s Word, we continue to trust in what He does for us. We especially trust and cherish those small glimpses of blessing as they come to us in the midst of different trials and tribulations.
These small glimpses of blessings from God … they come through suffering. Remember, Jesus is speaking these words of destruction to His disciples merely days before His own brutal suffering and death. The suffering which Jesus will experience isn’t because He deserved it, it isn’t because He wanted to find out and experience the pain of crucifixion, no … the suffering of Jesus is done solely for you, for your eternal salvation. Jesus will fight against death and He’ll die in the battle so that He can rise and reveal that He has overcome death for you. He does it to prove no matter how big the waves are, no matter how hard the trial or the suffering is … there is nothing in this life, nothing, which can snatch you out of His protective hand, there is nothing which can separate you from the love of God which is found in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).
And this is why Jesus offers His disciples these small glimpses of remarkable protection even in the midst of this vision of destruction. When Jesus speaks of their persecution, He promises to fill their mouths with words of wisdom so that they might boldly and confidently speak the truth of God’s powerful grace (vs. 14-15). When Jesus speaks of their betrayal and their death, He promises that “not a hair of your head will perish” but “by standing firm you will gain life” (vs. 18-19). When Jesus describes the heavens torn open, He encourages the disciples to “stand up and lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near” (v 28).
No matter how terrible the force of destruction is … God’s work is never defeated, His will is always done. When God does not give you a life free from suffering, He calls you to look to Him in the midst of the storm, in the midst of the suffering. There you will find Him doing His thing, you will find Him giving you words to speak and promises to hold onto.
The disciples of Jesus … they were looking at the wrong things, they were talking about the wrong things. They were filled with the admiration of the beauty of the temple, of earthly things. What Jesus does with them is He turns their attention to something which is more beautiful … He turns them to the work of God in the midst of suffering as well as the promises of God which sustain His people.
And He does the same for you and me. We too are immersed in a difficult news cycle. We have wars and rumors of wars, we have fires and droughts, mass shootings and riots. It truly does sound like the end is coming, but … but we can’t know for sure. So what Jesus does here in our Gospel reading is turn our attention to what we do know for certain. This may not be the end. The end may be far off. But what we do know for certain is the One who holds us in His hand will never let us go, He is always right there with us. He will provide us with small glimpses of blessing until He brings us to our eternal home where we will enjoy the greatest blessing of all … eternal life with our Savior. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.