9 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.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 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.13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.
This was part of my Bible reading the other day and it jumped out at me. I have been hearing so many people speak of being afraid lately. People are voicing their fears everywhere. I hear people talking and read them posting of how frightened they are about the world their children and their grandchildren will inherit. I read of their fears for our nation if the other person gets elected. I heard someone speak tonight of her fear of danger for poll workers in our nation tomorrow. Someone else spoke of feeling safe in the walls of the church but fearful going outside of them.
People are wondering what lies ahead, are fairly certain it won’t be good, and many are filled with fear.
In this passage Jesus faced a frightening future head on. He didn’t mince words, but foretold a coming time of great tragedy: wars, tumults, nations against nations, earthquakes, famine and pestilence, terrors from heaven, persecution (leading even to the death of some of his followers), and betrayal by friends and family. Great and terrifying tragedies, indeed. Enough to frighten anyone!
But he began this teaching by saying, “Do not be terrified.” When you hear of this, don’t be afraid. How, Lord? How could they hear your words and not be terrified? How can we read them and not tremble? How can we face the coming days (whatever they might be) and not be afraid?
His answer? “This will be your opportunity.” Opportunity? Yes, these coming tragedies, these unspeakably frightening events, rather than destroying them, would be an opportunity for his people to bear witness to Christ. He even instructed them not to worry ahead of time about what kind of witness they would be, saying he would provide the words for them; he would give them “a mouth and wisdom”.
Again Jesus warned that the days ahead would be terrible. Even their closest family and friends would betray them. All of his listeners would be hated, and some would be killed. Again, how could they hear all this and not be afraid? And again Jesus reassured them: “But not a hair of your head will perish.”
What did this mean? How could it be? He just told them that some would die! Perish must mean more than physical death, something worse, something eternal. Apparently a person can die but not perish, for this is exactly what he said here.
Obviously this is the same idea he had in mind in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” We know people who believe in God loving the world through his Son Jesus and, yet, have died. Obviously, physical death isn’t perishing. For though we die in this world, we will live in the next.
When I read this the other day I thought of Jesus, in the book of John, telling his disciples that in him they could have peace in the midst of the world’s troubles. He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33) When he said this Jesus foresaw all the troubles of the world, even the terrifying ones he talked about in our passage today.
So when I read Luke 21 this week, I prayed:
I know, Lord, that many are scared. I hear people talking about their fears, fear of what is happening in the world, fear of the world their children and grandchildren will inherit. I don’t know what is coming or when it will come. I do know that our world is changing, dangers are creeping nearer our doorsteps, and your people are afraid. And that’s why I love this passage today, Jesus. You speak of unimaginable horrors and trials, all we fear and things we’ve not yet thought of fearing. But your words are these:
Do not be terrified.
This will be your opportunity.
Not a hair on your head will perish.
You have told us about it ahead of time. You have promised never to leave us. You said that you have already overcome it. And you assure us that,
By endurance, you will gain your lives.
God, you know I am not eager for difficulties, for terrifying times. I’m not. Especially for my children and grandchildren. But I am not afraid any longer. Thank you for delivering me from fear. In you I have peace. You have overcome the world. You are with me. You will give me a mouth and wisdom. Not a hair on my head will perish. And I WILL gain my life!