Luke 21:5-19 – Sermon – Endurance

*caution, rough draft ahead*

Luke 21:5-19

Many of you know about the Ironman Race that is held each year in Hawaii. This is a huge endurance race that calls to hundreds of people to participate in. During this race, participants start off by swimming 2.4 miles. Then once they are out of the water they bike 112 miles around the mountains of Hawaii. Then after that they run a marathon, or 26.2 miles. At the end of this race each person will have gone 140.6 miles. Now this sounds crazy to me since if I hopped in a car right now and drove 140.6 miles at the end I would be tired. Chris McCormack was the winner for the 2010 race and he finished with a time of 8:10:37. But this still isn’t the craziest endurance race out there. There is another race called the Badwater Ultramarathon. It is a 135 foot race (no swimming or biking, all on foot) from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney. The race starts at -280 feet below sea level and then ends at 8,312 feet. During this run/walk/crawl you go through three mountain ranges and over the course participants accumulate 4,700 feet of decent and 13,000 feet of accent with temperatures that can reach 120 degrees. Zach Gingerich was the 2010 winner of a time of 24:44:48. This was his third year finishing the race.

Then there is this guy. [VIDEO]

Dean pushed himself even more and has a new book out called 50/50 where he ran 50 marathons in 50 days, that is 1,310 miles in a month and a half.

People who participate in these races have great endurance. These aren’t runners, these are endurance racers. Endurance, when we think of exercise, is defined as the ability to gather, process and deliver oxygen. It is the process that makes the body keep going. Like the video said, it is the mental ability to look at “a donut running next to you and a taco in front of you and saying, that’s normal.” Endurance is also defined as “the ability to withstand hardship or adversity.” There are people who have great endurance but cannot run a quarter of a mile. These are people who have endured great hardships in their life and who have overcome great adversity.

Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years. He was sent there because he was an adversary of the Apartheid Regime of South Africa. Apartheid was the government system set up in 1948 which segregated the population of South Africa. Each person was given a classification back then. You were either “white, black, colored, or Indian.” Eventually the blacks were all forcefully removed and placed in camps outside cities. They were allowed to come in to serve the whites but other than that they lived in some of the poorest conditions and under some of the cruel treatments you can imagine. There were those who attempted to fight against this regime and they were thrown away in prison if not killed. After 27 years of being behind bars Nelson Mandela was freed and became the first President elected through a multi-racial elections in 1994. In those 27 years in prison he learned a lot. He learned to have compassion for his adversaries and in the end desired to have South Africa be a country as a whole, not just having the black rule. One of the traits that enabled him to go from a prisoner to a president is his endurance, his ability to withstand hardship and adversity.

The scripture ends by Jesus saying “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” In this passage of Luke, Jesus is in the Temple. He just saw a woman putting two small copper coins into the offering and then over hears some other people talking about how pretty the Temple is. The temple was pretty. In 19 BC King Herod started to rebuild the Temple. During this Capital Campaign, the property almost doubled in size. The construction only lasted about 18 months but they were still working on the adornments and decorations well past Jesus’ lifetime, until 62-64 AD. The temple was a beautiful place but when Jesus hears people talking about its beauty he tells them, “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.”

This prophecy would not have been taken lightly, nor was it. Remember the Temple was where the Spirit of God was. God’s presence was in the Holy of Holies. The temple, for the Jews, did not only represent the place where they made their sacrifices to God but also where God lived. For many the temple probably was God. Jesus is now telling them that this building, this beautiful, ornate, religious building would crumble. This peaked some people’s interest and they came to him and asked, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sing that this is about to take place?”

Jesus then goes on to answer those questions but in some sketchy language. Many people read this piece of scripture and they think Jesus is predicting the end of time but he is really telling people about the end of the Temple. In reality the author of the Gospel of Luke knows that this really happens because it is thought that Luke is written after 70 AD, when Jerusalem and the Temple were actually destroyed by the Romans. Let’s break Jesus’ predictions down a little.

Jesus states that there will be War and insurrections. The Roman Emperor at the time of Jesus’ death was Tiberius. Between Tiberius and the siege of Jerusalem there were eight Roman Emperors. Because of this high volume of turnover and the struggles that come when a new person takes over the control of an Empire, there were many wars and insurrections.

He also mentions “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” Once again this wasn’t supposed to be taken as an ‘end of time’ prophesy but an end of the temple prophecy. While the Roman Empire fought over who controlled what and who was emperor kingdoms and nations fought against one another all the time.

Jesus also mentions earthquakes, famines and plagues. In Claudia in 47 AD there was a massive famine in the land. The second part of Luke’s gospel, the book we call Acts, tells us in the 11th chapter about the famine itself. Then in the 16th chapter we learn about a massive earthquake in Philippi. It was so massive that it shook the foundation of the prison that Paul and Silas were in and set everyone free, although they didn’t escape they merely hung around and worshiped God.

The Jesus mentions there were signs in heaven. The Roman commander Titus had enlisted the help of Josephus, a Jewish Scholar, to try and negotiate with the people in the Temple walls in order to reach a peaceful agreement. He also kept a detailed account of the siege and destruction. During this time he reported a star in the sky that resembled a sword and a comet at the burning of the Jerusalem temple. Everything that Jesus had said came true in one way or another before the Commander Titus destroyed the city and temple. After that they plundered the temple taking the artifacts and anything they could carry all the way back to Rome. In the Arch of Titus there is a carving depicting this scene that is still there today.

I am sure everyone who was standing around look very concerned with Jesus as he says this in the temple courts. Jesus then goes on to tell them that they will be persecuted, hated, and it will tear into the very fabric of their society and family structures. During this time the early Christians had massive persecutions under the Emperor Nero. Nero was well known to through dinner parties and use Christians and his citronella candles to light up his party. Many Christians suffered a great deal for the faith between the time after Jesus’ death and the destruction of the temple. Jesus knows this is coming and he is looking around at his disciples and the people standing there at the temple and he says, “by your endurance you will gain your souls.”

The Christian faith was so fresh then that it would have been easy to dismiss it and move on in life. No one would blame Peter if he would have just kept on denying knowing this guy named Jesus he used to hang out with, especially when things got to the point of life and death. Peter is said to have died during the reign of Nero by being crucified upside down in Rome. This is why the Vatican, the holy city of the Roman Catholic Church is located there.

There were people who walked with Jesus, heard his message, saw his death, and heard of his resurrection as a young person and then lived to witness this prophecy be fulfilled. During a time of trial, a time of persecution, of natural disasters and of civil unrest, faith can easily be lost. But for those who understand the nature of spiritual endurance, for them Jesus says, they will gain their souls.

Desmond Tutu became a bishop in the Anglican Church during Apartheid. He then moved to become the Secretary General of South Africa’s Council of Churches. He became the central church figure in the fight against Apartheid. After Apartheid ended he was also the person in charge of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. During this commission he heard thousands of stories of people being tortured, families being killed and all the pain and suffering that went along with Apartheid. He heard this from the victims and from the perpetrators. In it all he saw the good in people and was able to speak to the notion that good will always win over evil. In the most recent Time Magazine he is quoted as saying, “God is not evenhanded. God is biased, horribly in favor of the weak. The minute an injustice is perpetrated, God is going to be on the side of the one who is being clobbered.”

With the mindset that God is on your side, knowing that as Jesus says, “not a hair of your head will perish,” it is possible to live through such horrible things. Only through the faith in Jesus Christ is it possible to look evil in the eye and know for certain who will come out the victor. Tutu also said in the article, “The texture of our universe is one where there is no question at all but that good and laughter and justice will prevail.” He is known as the laughing bishop because his infectious laugh. But that laugh is rooted in the knowledge that no matter how bad things get, God always wins.

We currently are living through some tough times and there are many people suffering in our town and in our nation. We have to continue to endure. We have to keep breathing, keep pumping the oxygen of faith through our system. We don’t know how long the run will be. It could be a simple couple of miles or it could be fifty marathons in fifty days. When the temple fell so did the faith of many people in that holy city. As we look at our lives and some of it crumbles we have to know that things may not get better, they may get even worse, but with God we will win. We may die but the ultimate defeat is that of sin and death because that battle has been won already by our Lord Jesus Christ.

And all God’s people said…Amen.

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