The Lord's Day Morning
July 17, 2011
“Hated By All On Account of My Name”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to the gospel of Luke. We’re in the twenty-first chapter as we continue our way through this gospel together, and we've come to a section in Luke in which Luke records Jesus’ teaching to His disciples about the end, about the future, about what is to come. It's provoked by a conversation that Jesus overhears, to which He makes a comment, which then causes the disciples to ask Him a question that gets Him into the issue of the future.
But I want to make one simple observation before we begin to read the passage and that's this — whenever the Bible begins to talk about prophecy, prophecy of the future, its concern is present. It's not speculative; it's about how we're supposed to live right now. Whenever the Bible talks about what theologians call eschatology, or the end, its concern is ethics; it's our behavior; it's how we live right now. Prophecy, Bible teaching about the future or about the end, is never merely speculative in the Bible. It is always practical. It is always designed to teach us how we are to live in the here and now, how we are to serve the Lord right now, and you’ll find that that's the case in the passage before us today.
It would be very interesting to go back and look at this passage from the standpoint of the numerous, immediate, practical implications that it had for Jesus’ disciples when they were first hearing it. As tempting as that is for me to do though, I want to focus with you today on three or four things that this passage says to you and me right now. So before we read God's Word, let's pray and ask for His help and blessing.
This is Your Word, Lord. It's meant for our edification. It's meant to build us up and equip us for every good work. It is Your Word and so we ask that by Your Spirit, Your Word would accomplish Your purposes in our hearts and lives. Open our eyes to behold wonderful truths in it. Grant us that we would receive it as what it is, the very Word of God. Instruct us in it and conform us to it, we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's Word beginning in Luke 21 verse 5:
“And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, He said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’ And they asked Him, ‘Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?’ And He said, ‘See that you are not led astray. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.’
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 pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for My name's sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for My name's sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Many Christians in the world today live in situations where they face persecution for Christ just like Jesus warns these Christians here in Luke 21 that they would face. Perhaps you have been following the case of Yousef Nadarkhani, a thirty-two year old Iranian Christian pastor who has been sentenced to death for converting to Christianity. He was a Muslim who, as a teenager, came to faith in Christ and has been serving as a pastor in Iran. And the cases run all the way up to the Supreme Court and it's reported that in the decision of the Supreme Court they said that if he did not reconvert to Islam, if he did not renounce Christ, that he would be liable for the death penalty. That case is still pending.
Well we live in a culture that is increasingly antagonistic to the claims of the Gospel. In our culture, there is no one right now who's being called up on the death penalty for being a Christian or for converting to Christ, but we see an increasing antagonism in our own culture against Christianity, against Christ, and against the Gospel. Maybe you saw in the last week, an op-ed article in USA Today by a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Asra Nomani, arguing that the Internal Revenue Service ought to deny tax-exempt status to any place of worship that holds that there are different roles for men and women. Now she acknowledges in the article that that would be a violation of the First Amendment that she said, “This is so important that we're just going to have to work around that.”
And this is actually very typical in our culture because the whole issue of the definition of manhood and womanhood and marriage has become confused before our very eyes in the last forty years. In the recent debates, for instance, over the definition of marriage, those advocating for same-sex marriage have done so on the basis that it is the right thing to do for freedom, for equality, for justice, and fairness, and that has meant that those who hold to a traditional or historic view of the definition of marriage are now in the position of being enemies of freedom, equality, justice, and fairness. And that is going to be an increasingly difficult place for Christians who believe what the Bible says about marriage as we live in our culture.
Perhaps you've followed the case of Peter Vidmar who had been appointed as the Chief of Mission by the United States Olympic Committee for our Olympic team in 2012. And a great controversy broke out because he is a supporter of traditional marriage. And one of the male figure skaters who is openly homosexual, Johnny Weir, called his appointment “disgraceful.” He said, “How could we possibly appoint someone who believes in traditional marriage?” He says, “I certainly wouldn't want to be represented by someone who is anti-gay marriage. It's not just about marriage, it is about being allowed equal rights as Americans.”
Now, I believe that this is a position and a stance that we are going to increasingly have to deal with in our culture, in our society, our community now, and it is going to make Christians, if they take a stand, in business, government, or education, it is going to make Christians, Bible-believing Christians, persona non grata, very, very quickly if not already. And it's going to force us to count the cost and to decide how we're going to be a witness when our time of testimony comes. And I believe that Jesus’ words in this passage actually contain for us several very, very important truths that we need to consider regarding that issue. Let me just point to three or four of them this morning.
First, a reminder that Jesus gives, and you see it right out of the block in verse 5 and 6. Then, an admonition, an admonition that He gives in verse 8. And then an exhortation, and that exhortation begins in verse 13. And then a comfort, and you see that comfort in verse 18. I'm going to look at these three or four things with you this morning.
A reminder that you are the house
The first thing is the reminder and the reminder comes in the context of the conversation of verse 5. Look at it with me. The disciples are looking up at the temple mound and they’re looking at the temple building and they see how beautiful it is. It's a very impressive building and they comment on how wonderful it is architecturally and how it's covered with precious stones and offerings are being taken. And Jesus says to them in verse 6, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Now, Jesus is of course referring to the destruction of the temple which will happen within about forty years of His speaking these words. In A.D. 70, the temple will be destroyed. There will be another occupation of Jerusalem in A.D. 130, about sixty years later, that will destroy the rest of it. What Jesus says here comes literally true within the lifetime of the people to whom He speaks. And He's speaking about an event very important in the history of God's redemption.
But I want to pause for a second and think about the implication of this for you and me. He speaks about a building that had uniquely served as the place where God's people experienced His presence and favor and He tells them that there is going to come a day when not a stone of it is going to stand on the other. Is that going to mean the end of the worship of God? No. Even though the building had been specifically appointed by God to be built? Right, the worship of God is not going to end. Why? Because in the end, as special as the temple was, the temple that God is building is not made of bricks and mortar and stone; it's made of people. As Peter will tell us, we are living stones being built into the temple of God, the house of God.
And so there's something for us in Jesus’ words that we need to remember and it's this — you are the house that the Lord wants to be beautiful. You are the house that the Lord wants to be beautiful. It's not just that the Lord wants us to worship in a beautiful house; it's that you are the house that the Lord wants to be beautiful. It's our privilege, week after week, to worship in one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Protestant Christendom. You know you really do. I doubt that there are many people who have never been anywhere else who can adequately appreciate the simplicity and the dignity and the beauty of the room that we gather in as our meeting house. I love this place. And it's so comfortable. Oh, I know some of you think it's too cold, but compared to sixty years ago, you’d be glad for the cold, I promise you!
An Admonition to be on guard
But as beautiful as this meeting house is, what your pastors and elders are trying to do, is to make you a beautiful house for God. You know something I often think about is — what would this building look like if it looked like my heart? And I think about that collectively too. What would this building look like if it looked like our hearts and lives collectively? I can pretty much guarantee you that it wouldn't look this beautiful, but our desire is, by the sanctifying work of God's Holy Spirit, that we would become more and more a beautiful house of God in the way that we live individually and collectively together.
So I believe that Jesus’ words about the end of the temple remind us that you are the house that the Lord wants to be beautiful. That's something very, very important. We could well see a day when not one stone of this building will stand on another because of opposition and persecution to Christ. But even if that's the case, if the congregation loves the Word of God, loves the Lord Jesus Christ, has embraced the Gospel of the Word of God, then that congregation can continue being beautiful even when not one stone of this building stands on another. You are the house that the Lord wants to be beautiful. That's the first things I want you to see and it's a reminder that we get when we see Jesus’ words in this passage.
But the second thing is this, and it's an admonition — in answer to the question, “When is this going to happen?” and “What are the signs going to be that it's going to happen?” if you’ll look at verses 8 and 9, Jesus responds and He responds with an admonition. “See that you are not led astray.” Here is His fundamental admonition — “Don't be deceived. Don't be led astray. Don't stumble over what's about to happen. Be on guard against deception.” There's the admonition that Jesus delivers. And look, it's very specific. “For many will come in My name saying, ‘I am He!’” So what's that? False messiahs, and we know from history that there were many false messiahs in this time that attempted to lead Israel out into the wilderness. And so Jesus says, “Don't be deceived by false messiahs.” We've already talked about the fact that Luke records for us Jesus’ words that make it clear that it is impossible that you will miss it when He comes. You don't have to wonder about the certainty of Jesus’ second coming. If you have to ask, it's not Him, because when He comes you won't have to ask. You will know. So He warns against false messiahs.
Notice what else He says. “Many will come in My name saying, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.” There, He warns against the idea that the end is going to come immediately and He picks up on this furthermore in verse 9. “The end will not be at once,” and so He warns against the idea that His second coming is going to be immediate. You know, His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, and then there's an expectation that there’ll be an immediate second coming. And He tells them ahead of time, “Don't think that the end is going to come quickly.”
An Admonition to not be deceived
And then third, notice here — what's it going to be like? What's it going to be like after My resurrection? What's it going to be like after my ascension? “When you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place.” Jesus is telling His disciples, “Don't think that after My resurrection and ascension that there are going to be no more trials. In fact, you are going to live in times of trials and wars and persecutions and you’re going to be hated by all for My sake.” The admonition is this — don't be deceived. There are going to be false messiahs, there are going to be trials, and the end is not going to come immediately. What is Jesus doing but setting the expectation of His disciples.
You know, this week as the worship service for the morning services was being put together and I saw the hymns, “It Is Well With My Soul,” and then in just a few moments we're going to be able to sing, “Whate’er My God Ordains Is Right,” I thought, “You know, those will be good hymns for people who are undergoing trials in our congregation to be able to sing together on Sunday morning. There are some of us who need to sing those hymns.
Well Jesus is preparing us for exactly those kinds of trials here. He's saying, “Don't think that the kingdom that I am bringing is going to be without trials. There are going to be trials and tribulations and wars and tumults and persecutions. That is not an evidence that I am not ruling at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; it's an evidence that My words are true because I'm not inviting you to a party, I'm inviting you to a war.” This Christian life that we are called to is a fight; it's a fight to the death. And Jesus is giving us this admonition — “Don't be deceived and don't be discouraged when the end isn't quick and when there are many trials and when there are many others claiming to be the true Messiah. Be discerning. Hold fast. Endure the trials. This is exactly the way I said it would be.”
An Exhortation to be Prepared
And then there's an exhortation. And you see that exhortation especially in verse 13, don't you? “This will be your opportunity to bear witness — when they lay hands on you and persecute you and deliver you to the synagogues and prisons and you’re brought before kings and governors for My sake, this will be your opportunity to bear witness.” And He goes on to say, of course, verse 17 — “You will be hated by all for My name's sake.” And His exhortation is simply this — we must be prepared to bear scorn for Jesus Christ. And that will be increasingly the case in our culture because it is increasingly in opposition to God, it's increasingly in opposition to the Scriptures, it's increasingly in opposition to Christian truth.
And young people especially, you will see this in two specific areas. One is in the area of the truth of Christianity. If you believe in the truth of Christianity, you will have contemporaries in business and in education and in social life who will say to you, “How can you be so arrogant as to believe that Christianity is true and that other religions and other beliefs are not? That's arrogant, it's narrow, it's bigoted and it's dangerous!” If you believe that God's Word is true, if you believe that Christ is absolute, if you believe that He is the only Savior, you will be met with dumbfounded stares of absolute incomprehension that such a troglodyte still exists in this world. People will say, “If you believe that, you’re dangerous to other people because you will be intolerant and you will do things that are hurtful and not in their best interest to them.” And so if you are a Christian in this world today, you must be prepared for people, simply because you believe that this is true, to fear you as a danger to themselves and to society.
Secondly, in the area of morality, if you believe that what the Bible says about how we live is the way that we ought to live, there will be people who say, “How in the world can you possibly believe that other people ought to have to live according to your religion? Who made you in charge of the rest of us? How can you possibly impose your morality on the rest of us?” In both of these cases, it will be okay with your contemporaries if you privately believe these things to be true as long as you do not expect anybody else to believe them to be true or anybody else to live and practice that way. And this kind of a confrontation is going to raise an issue for you in your very testimony to Jesus Christ. You are going to have an opportunity to count the costs. And that's a good thing, that's a good thing because for a long time in our culture we have thought that our culture was Christianized enough that we didn't think that we had to take a choice or make a choice between Christ and our culture. That is going to be increasingly impossible to hold together. You’re going to have to answer the call of the song, “Who Is On The Lord's Side?” Are you on the Lord's side, or not? And that's a good thing. But what Jesus says in this passage is, “You’d better count the costs now. You’d better be prepared now.” He says, “You don't have to come up with your speech.” He says, “I’ll help you with the wisdom to have the right words when the time comes, but you do have to be ready to take the stand. Where do you stand?”
Now by the way, before you can give witness to Jesus Christ, you have to believe in Jesus Christ. You have to trust in Him as He is offered in the Gospel. You can't bear witness to Christ like Jesus is talking about here unless you are a child of the living God through the forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ. So the first part of being a witness is embracing the Gospel, trusting in Christ as your Savior, but then determining that He is your Lord and Master and you will go the way of His truth and the way that He teaches for life. There's the exhortation — that we must be prepared to bear scorn for Christ's sake.
A WORD OF COMFORT
But there's also encouragement in this passage and you’ll see it if you look especially in verse 18. “Not a hair of your head will perish. Even though you’re hated by all for the sake of My name, not a hair of your head will perish.” Now this cannot mean that Christians will not suffer personal losses, physical torment, and even death. Think of it. The very first Christian witness recorded in the book of Acts by Luke, the author of this book, a man named Stephen who bore public witness in the face of his contemporaries was stoned to death, but Jesus’ words are still true. Jesus does not mean that bearing witness to Him will mean that you will not lose your reputation, that you will not lose your vocation, that you will not lose your family, that you will not be exiled from your people, that you will not endure physical persecution, or even ultimate martyrdom. Jesus’ words here do not guarantee us that we will be spared of any kind of suffering and persecution and death in this life, but it is a promise that all those who are in union with Him can never be taken from His hand. The one thing the world cannot take from you is your God.
And you know I have to wonder if the apostle Paul, as he was writing Romans 8:31-39, didn't have Jesus’ words here in mind — that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor nakedness or persecution or peril or sword can separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ.” And that's what Jesus is saying here. “No one can take you from Me. Not one hair of your head will perish. You will live with Me forever. They may take everything from you, including your life, but they can't take Me from you, and if you have Me, you have life eternal.” There's an incredible encouragement in this passage, that no matter what kind of stand that we have to take for Christ as we bear witness for Him, Jesus will reward us a hundred fold in this life and in the life to come and not one hair of our head will perish. That's what set for us in this passage as Jesus speaks about what is to come. His concern is about how we live today. What timely words for us in a culture increasingly opposed to His Word and to His rule.
Heavenly Father, make us faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ in our time and culture. Make us to be gracious but strong in the way that we hold fast to the Savior and say to the world, “He is my Savior. He has never forsaken me; I will not forsake Him.” And use this witness we pray, for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of the wellbeing of the nations, but most of all for Your own glory. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Now let's encourage one another as we sing and give praise to God with number 108 as we think about how God preserves us even in our trials.
Christian, in sorrow, death, or need, God's promise to you is grace, mercy, and peace to you in Christ Jesus. Amen.