Readings: Isaiah 65:17-25 • Isaiah 12:1-6 • 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 • Luke 21:5-19
This week’s theme is created for eternal relationship. The prophet Isaiah talks about our eternal relationship—a time of no dying or weeping or pain. The former things are not remembered. In chapter 12, Isaiah reminds Israel that God is our salvation; he comforts; he brings joy. In his letter to believers in Thessalonica, Paul gives details about how to live in that relationship. The sermon, from the passage in Luke, talks about how people get caught up in signs and the destruction of the temple, but these things aren’t what life is about. Life is about being in relationship with Father, Son and Spirit.
All Shook Up
Luke 21:5-19 NRSV
This sermon is intentionally long. It covers the entire passage of Luke 21:5-19, and could easily be made into back-to-back sermons, or a sermon and a Bible study. We left it long so you could determine if you want to focus on the four negative commands and make reference to the relationship statements or focus on the relationship statements and make reference to the negative commands.
Introduction: You might want to play the very beginning of Elvis Presley’s song, “All shook up.”
“A well’a bless my soul; What’sa wrong with me?”
Those are the opening lines of the lyrics to Elvis Presley’s famous song, “All Shook Up.” Elvis connects with our own souls with the surprise we often feel when something is wrong. On one hand, we seem to intuitively know that our souls are made for blessing. But on the other hand, what do we make of things when everything seems to be going wrong? This doesn’t add up. For Elvis, the crisis taking place has everything to do with his beloved. His refrain simply states:
“I’m in love; I’m all shook up.”
For Elvis, and I think we would agree, being in love with another tends to shake things up, especially in the beginning of a budding relationship. When we are drawn into a relationship with someone else, we inevitably experience a crisis in our lives. It can be perplexing. We are wooed and called to another that we can’t see ourselves living without. But at the same time, this “call” is very costly. Everything will have to change. Sacrifices will need to be made and schedules will need to adjust. Things will need to shift around and be reordered to make room for this new relationship.
And do people notice? You better believe it. Ever seen a young man start taking a keen interest in his clothing and hygiene when years of parental coaxing barely produce matching socks? Or what about the young lady who unexplainably cleans the entire house before a certain someone picks her up at the door. You might even ask, “What happened to you? I feel I barely know you anymore!” “Hey, are you feeling ok? Should I take you to the doctor?” It does not escape the attention of others when someone is adjusting their lives to make room for another. Sooner or later the question is going to come up. “So, who is this person that is bringing about all these changes in you?”
You may be wondering where I am going with this. Today’s passage from Luke is about Jesus predicting the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. What does being “All Shook Up” have to do with Luke 21? Perhaps Elvis’ lyrics can provide a fresh approach to this passage. Let’s begin reading the passage:
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Luke 21:5-6 NRSV)
Jesus is giving his disciples a heads-up on an upcoming “shake up” with cosmic, political and personal implications. We may be tempted to look at this passage as a straight warning about end-of-the-world events before Christ returns. But Jesus wasn’t concerned with predicting the end of the world and even warns against going down that road in this very passage. However, Jesus did want his followers to endure to the end regardless of the crisis that was inevitably coming. Jesus wants them to understand that a relationship with him is going to be a shake-up of their entire existence.
If Elvis, the king of rock and roll, was “all shook up” because of the love of his “buttercup,” what crisis should we expect when the love of God the Father takes hold of us in the King of all Kings, Jesus Christ? Let’s take a look!
When people spoke of the temple, they spoke of its beauty—how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God. This gives us a window into the values and mindsets of “some” in their words about the temple. These disciples were expressing a worldview that was proud of what was “dedicated to God.”
The temple was an impressive structure. It was visibly beautiful and seemingly unmovable. And it was all for God. Any good Jew would be proud.
Jesus responds to their self-satisfied preoccupation by letting them know it’s all going to be shook up, or down in this case, where “not one stone will be left upon another.” That’s a pretty thorough shake-down, to say the least. Jesus says these words, by the way, while standing near temple.
In our day and time, we may not have a decorated temple to boast about, but we can easily confuse dedication to God with images of success. These images of success are the “things that you see” that Jesus says will not last. How often do we pride ourselves in our latest “success” while claiming it to be all “for” God? Who are we kidding? Everything we have and accomplish is a gift by God’s grace. When we peel back the layers of our heart, we may find we are more dedicated to all the temples of beauty and power that makes us feel secure and significant than we are to God. If Jesus told you that everything you are proud of would not last, how would you respond?
Here’s how these disciples responded:
They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” (Luke 21:7 NRSV)
They respond with a question about timing. They seemed to gloss right over the main take-away from Jesus’ words. The temple has no staying power. It’s going away. Why ask about when? Maybe these disciples want to know how long they can remain enjoying the temple. Maybe they are hoping it won’t occur on their watch. Whatever their reasons, their focus is still on the temple. If I told you your house was going to burn down next week and for some reason you believed me, you probably would start packing and looking for a new home. Why be concerned with the exact day and how the blaze begins? There’s no future in that house. Move on…and quickly!
Jesus shows little concern for their concern about timing:
And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!’ and, “The time is near!’ Do not go after them.” (Luke 21:8 NRSV)
It seems Jesus wants to redirect their question from “When?” to “Who?” Who are the disciples going to follow? Who are they dedicated to? The fear of losing what we treasure most will create a crisis for us and we will search for a replacement. For the Jews, losing the temple would be an undoing of life as they knew it. They would be sorely tempted to follow some other promise of life. Jesus is standing there in the temple, the only true Life that has any lasting beauty and power for them. Jesus wants to turn his disciple’s eyes away from the temple and to himself. There is no other place to put our trust and our hope.
In this verse, we encounter two of four negative commands in our passage.
- “Do not be misled!” The disciples are already misled in looking to the temple for their significance and dedication to God. Jesus knows we are tempted to follow things that appear beautiful and powerful. We are success-driven people. Can we hear Jesus speaking to us in our time? Do not be misled. The “success” we find in life will not last and it does not give us a better standing with God. Pursuing success-driven agendas in the name of God misleads us into a dedication to ourselves, not God.
- “Do not follow false leaders.” When Luke wrote this, the temple had already been destroyed. His readers were facing some false prophets who were claiming an imminent doom because of this specific current event. “The temple has fallen! So, the world is coming to an end! Follow me!” Using Jesus’ warning, Luke encourages his readers to remain patient in their time of crisis. Faithfulness and longsuffering are the way of following the Lord, not knee-jerk reactions to crisis. When we know God as the one who is faithful to us, then crises are events that come and They do not define us or sway us from one extreme to another.
The third negative command is in the next verse:
“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” (Luke 21:9 NRSV)
- “Do not panic.” Jesus wants to turn their ears to listen to him rather than to all the fearmongering that comes from fighting. He indicates to them that “wars and insurrections” are unavoidable before the end comes. The word “end” here is telos, which refers more to the end purpose of something, not the cessation of something. So, wars and insurrections in some way “must take place” before the goal of what God is doing in our world is complete. Wars and insurrections create instability. We never know how things are going to turn out—who will win, who will lose and how it will affect us. “Wars and insurrections” is a strong way to express the thought of crisis. It’s here that Jesus says, “Do not panic!” How can we not panic in the face of such a major, shall we say, shake-up? We panic when we don’t know what’s going on or how it will turn out.
Maybe for a moment we can return to Elvis’ refrain:
“I’m in love; I’m all shook up”
Jesus is the Father’s love made visible in our world. This creates the greatest shake-up of all time. Things are going to be thrown into crisis as God’s love woos people to himself. In Jesus, the world is coming face to face with the one who is too beautiful and powerful to be ignored. In Jesus, we are all called into a love affair that we were created for. But things must change. The beginning of this relationship will produce some serious shaking-up of priorities, ways of thinking, talking and acting. There is no room for a self-centered life in this other-centered relationship. We can fight it, and we do. We can resist, and mount an insurrection, and we do. But for the true “end” or full purpose of being human to come about, Jesus must bless us by shaking loose what’s wrong with us. (To channel Elvis one more time.)
Why shouldn’t we panic? Because Jesus has won the war and put down the insurrection. These things can play out in our lives and in our world without us losing hope. We can participate in the breaking loose of all that gets in the way of us being blessed in this relationship found in Jesus. The “end” is coming, but for now we make room for this new relationship in our lives in hope. And as we do so, we become witnesses to the rest of the world of who God is.
After Jesus tells these disciples “not to panic” over all the crisis coming their way, he then gives them a comprehensive picture of what this crisis will look like. It is the desire of the Father to “shake up” every facet of our lives to make us whole. He is in the business of making us a new creation. Jesus is not a part-time Redeemer. He’s the fullness of time bringing us to an end-time full-fill-ment. C.S. Lewis once said, “Dozens of people go to Him to be cured of some one particular sin which they are ashamed of…or which is obviously spoiling daily life…Well, He will cure it all right: but He will not stop there. That may be all you asked; but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone), pp. 174).
“The full treatment” is what lies within the next 8 verses. There’s a lot packed in here and it’s not a chronological prediction of events. Rather, it’s an overview of all that gets “shook up” when God’s love breaks in. We will look at four relationships that are in crisis. These four relationships we will see are what makes us fully human. To be whole is to have each of these relationships brought into crisis, shaking up everything that’s wrong with us so we can live as the Father’s beloved children.
Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.” (Luke 21:10-17 NRSV)
- Relationship with God
Let’s start with the first relationship that shakes up all the others. We see this expressed in verse 12:
“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you…because of my name.” (Luke 21:12 NRSV)
It’s our relationship with God gone astray that has led to the unavoidable crisis in every area of our lives. As we come to see in Jesus who the Father is and who we are as his children, we are called, or wooed back into the relationship we were created for. We are brought to a point of crisis where we choose to enter this relationship with our whole heart. It’s living in this relationship, living in his name, that reorders everything in our lives. A life of repentance begins where we turn from all that turns us from the beauty and power we see in the face of our beloved. We find in this relationship more and more that we were made to be blessed and to be a blessing, to be loved by the one who created us for himself, and to love this one with our whole being. This is a love that completely reorients everything else. We find out who we are and what our purpose for existence is. Everything else now finds its proper place and order from this primary relationship. Like the young couple that falls in love, because of their relationship with one another, they begin to relate to everything else differently.
- Relationship with self
The next thing that gets shook up in our love relationship with the Lord is how we relate to ourselves. We find ourselves in the eyes of the other. This was one of the first things that went wrong in the Garden after the Fall. When Adam and Eve turned their eyes from the Gardener and onto what looked good for them in the Garden, they decided to trust in themselves rather than the Creator for what was good. In this way, we decided for ourselves what was right and what was wrong. We ceased trusting the goodness of the Creator and trusted in our own judgment instead. This did not lead to any inner peace or contentment. Rather, Adam and Eve were full of shame and guilt, and this resulted in hiding from their Creator whom they once walked with in peace.
We see in this section a return to the trust relationship with the Father which shakes out our self-reliance:
“So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom…” (Luke 21:14-15 NRSV)
This brings us to our final negative command.
- “Do not prepare your defense beforehand.” Instead of deciding for ourselves what to say and do, all our words and actions flow out of trusting what the Lord “gives.” We cease talking to ourselves and return to listening to the voice of another. We have a way of self-understanding that operates by going out on our own to “find ourselves.”
Ever heard that sentiment? “I just need to get away from everyone and find out who I really am.” Or, “I’m going to do some soul searching and get in touch with my true self.” The problem with this is we are listening to the wrong voice. It makes sense that if we really want to know who we are, we must listen to the one who created us. We are at a distinct disadvantage of knowing ourselves from ourselves since we didn’t create ourselves. And what’s more, we are persons created to be in relationship with the Father. We will never truly know who we are by listening to our own voice outside of this relationship. We can only tell ourselves what we already know. So, we need answers that must come from another voice.
- Relationship with others
The third relationship that gets “all shook up” is our relationship with others. In this section we see this played out on both personal and public stages. When our primary relationship with the Lord regains its proper center in our lives, we shouldn’t be surprised that our other relationships may need some realigning. In this realignment, we may experience “relatives and friends” who “betray” us. Some deeply personal relationships may have been taking center stage in our life and to lose this standing probably won’t come without a fight. We see this fight escalate where “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”
Jesus is clear that, “You will be hated by all because of my name.” Our other relationships are being shook up by our relationship with the Lord. Everyone wants to be number one. When Jesus moves into that place, people may not move over so easily. But ironically, it’s only in this alignment that our relationship with others can be healed and made whole. We were not created to worship the ground others walk on. We were created to worship together on the same ground we walk on with the Lord.
It’s here in this shake-up that Jesus says we have an “opportunity to testify.” People will take notice of the change in us. It may not be well received at first. “…they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors…” It seems from this passage that the main opportunity here is to grow in our trust and relationship with the Lord a little further as he promises to give us his words and wisdom in response to this reaction from others. The more we walk with him the more we grow to trust him. Our witness to the world will be a natural response that flows from knowing the Lord, rather than reacting to people.
- Relationship with creation
Our final relationship that undergoes a shake-up is our relationship with creation. Notice the cosmic and natural turmoil that unfolds as God’s kingdom of love breaks in:
“…there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:11 NRSV)
As our relationship with ourselves and with others undergo a realignment to our relationship with the Lord, the place in which these relationships are engaged is affected. Relationships do not take place in a vacuum. A simplistic picture of this is a bar fight scene in a Western movie. When people start fighting, the place gets destroyed. The cosmos does not exist in some detached way from the humans who live in it. It’s all connected. So naturally, our environment and forces of nature undergo a seismic shift in reaction to the shake-up taking place between God and his people who were created to be stewards of his good creation.
With these four relationships being “shook up,” we may need to hear the Lord’s final words in this passage for encouragement:
“But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” (Luke 21:18-19 NRSV)
We can engage in all this struggle, this crisis, on all four fronts of our relationships, because we are promised that in the end, we will be made whole. God intends to save our whole being with all our relationships that make up who we are – what Jesus here calls our souls. We will find in the end that we haven’t lost anything—not even one hair.
Why should we endure? Because through the process, “the full treatment,” we are gaining who we are: Souls being shook up by God’s love. The complete you, from the hair on your head to the last cell in your foot, including the ground you walk on and the people you walk with. It is all being healed and made whole in the love of the Father poured out in Jesus the Son by the Spirit.
From “Speaking of Life:”
- Share a remodeling project that took more time and cost more than you anticipated.
- Do you think Jesus’ remodeling project in you is taking too long? Explain why or why not.
- Are you asking Jesus to remodel (change) you? What do you think that might look like?
From the sermon:
- Discuss how we can confuse being dedicated to our own “success” with a true dedication to God. Can you think of ways we ascribe dedication to God with outward appearances of beauty and power?
- Discuss how God calling us to himself will create a crisis in our lives. Can you share any experience where your relationship with the Lord created a “shake-up” in other areas of your life?
- Discuss Jesus’ command about not being misled or following false leaders. Can you see how a crisis in our life can tempt us to follow someone who presents themselves as a “savior” to our situation? Share any examples you may have experienced.
- What did you think of C.S. Lewis’s quote about “the full treatment”? Can you think of times with your walk with the Lord where he was doing more in you than you may have bargained for? Share any experiences you may have.
C.S. Lewis quote: “Dozens of people go to Him to be cured of some one particular sin which they are ashamed of…or which is obviously spoiling daily life…Well, He will cure it all right: but He will not stop there. That may be all you asked; but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone), pp. 174).
- Discuss the four relationships that make up being a complete person.