(…continued) But that wasn’t all Jesus had to say about the end of the world. His most important word on the subject was to come right at the end of Luke’s telling of this story in chapter twenty-one. After describing all the bad things that will happen, Jesus told the people to stand firm, because, “By standing firm, you will gain life.” Life? That is not what you would expect in a conversation like this. Here Jesus is talking about wars and earthquakes and famines, with death and destruction everywhere, about huge impressive structures that will come crumbling down, about death and destruction everywhere– Jesus is describing the end of the whole world. And then Jesus wraps it all up by saying, we can gain life. The rest of the passage sounds more like talk of death. When the Twin Towers went down three thousand lives were lost in the rubble, many being annihilated without a trace. A human life, it would seem, is far more fragile, far less enduring than a huge building.
A few years ago I shingled my house. “These shingles are guaranteed to last 30 years,” said the man at the lumberyard. Imagine that, I thought, an asphalt shingle has a better guarantee than I’ve got on myself. According to the statistics, my average life expectancy doesn’t give me another 30 years. Not only that, but none of us are guaranteed even another week, or even a day.
We are frail and fragile and we come with no guarantee, but in this passage about wars and earthquakes and famines and the end of the whole world, Jesus is talking about how we can gain life. You probably know enough about the Bible to know Jesus is referring to our resurrection from the dead and eternal life. But just because we know that, doesn’t mean we should ever lose the wonder of it. Think about it. You will last longer than the pyramids, longer than the Grand Canyon, longer than the sun and the moon and the stars. The stars have been up there a long time, but one day each one of those lights will go out, and we will still live, we who “by standing firm, will gain life,” Jesus said.
C. S. Lewis once gave a lecture entitled The Weight of Glory in which he made the startling claim that every person you meet is more important than an entire civilization. The Persian empire, the Greek Empire, and the Roman empire have all come and gone, just as the greatness of the United States of America will someday be simply an item in the history books. Civilizations, empires, and nations all come and go, but people, with their fragile and temporary bodies, are the greatest miracles and the most enduring entities in all creation. That is what Jesus is saying to the disciples in this verse. That is the perspective he was always teaching them. That is the perspective you go to church each week to sing about and pray for and be reminded of. It is not something you hear about or see evidence of anywhere else. “Alleluia, Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” we sing as the Scripture lessons are read. Good question. Where else shall we go to hear of such a hope? There is no where else to go. Only from Jesus who said, “Stand firm in this hope, and you will gain life.”
Sometimes parents will say to their teenagers, “You better get with it, because it won’t be long and you will be out there in the real world.” The real world. No more free rent, free food, free laundry service, and no car unless you buy your own, put your own insurance on it, and buy your own gas. In the real world, you have to make it on your own. Those parents have a point.
Others might describe this contrast saying, “You can talk about love and mercy and heaven and all that in church on Sunday morning, but on Monday morning, it’s back out into the real world.” The real world, the solid, sordid world, the world of facts, the world of making it on your own, the world you can see and feel and touch and manage, where you might take charge or might get beat up. That’s the real world, some say, not the world of prayer to someone you can’t see, Jesus who you can’t touch, or heaven which may or may not be there. Sunday morning church, some will tell you, is not the real world.
But Jesus has one big fact, one big reality for everyone: that is the fact that this world, this ‘real’ world, and everything in it, is passing away. It is perishing. Even though some scientists disagree with some Christians on how this world began, everyone agrees on the fact that it will end. Scientists say that in a few billion years the sun will burn out and the earth will freeze over and life will end. The Bible says that the earth will wear out like an old garment and the people will die like flies. There is no disagreement on that. That’s the real world for you– it’s real all right, until it perishes — and you and I with it.
But Jesus, who with the Father, created the reality of this world, offers another reality, another life, another world. In everything Jesus says and does, he is offering this new reality to all who would believe in him. It is his free gift. It is out of our hands, but comes to us by God’s grace. Stand firm in that hope, Jesus says, and you will gain life.
Isaiah 51:6 — Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.
Mark 13:31 — (Jesus said), “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
Mark 13:33 — (Jesus said), “Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.”
Luke 21:19 — (Jesus said), “Stand firm and you will gain life.”
II Corinthians 5:4-5 — For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
AMAZING GRACE (verses 5-7):
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.