O God Our Help in Ages Past…

Text: Luke 21:5-28

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

Our Gospel reading today is a tricky one. It is tempting to run wild with a text like this and start reading through it trying to figure out exactly what Jesus is talking about in our own days and put all the pieces together. Jesus talks about nations rising against nations, kingdoms against kingdoms, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, terrors, and all kinds of miserable things. People often try to read things like this that Jesus said with one eye on the news so that we can try to figure out if some of these things that Jesus spoke about are happening in our own days.

This is especially tempting after a week like this week. A week when our continent saw the unthinkable happen in that election you might have heard about. There is a temptation to take those events in the United States and try to fit them into what Jesus is talking about here or at least to think that these must be signs of the end times. But this is not what Jesus is talking about. Nothing in the Bible talks about what is going to happen after Donald Trump (or anyone else for that matter) gets elected as President of the United States. Jesus is talking about something very different.

If we read through our Gospel reading today carefully without trying to put our own ideas in it, we will see that Jesus is actually talking about something that happened a long, long time ago. Jesus is not telling us here what the end of the world will be like or anything like that. Instead, Jesus is warning His disciples about what is about to happen to the city of Jerusalem, the people in that city, and the temple in that city in the year 70AD. When Jesus told them this it was still 40 years in the future, but for us it is 1,946 years ago. Jesus isn’t talking about the future for us, but about the past.

In the year 70AD the Roman armies came in and crushed the rebellion that the people had instigated against their authority. The people of Israel had been under foreign rule for a long time. Sometimes it what the Assyrians ruling over them, sometimes the Babylonians, sometimes the Persians, sometimes the Greeks, and finally the Romans. Each time they tried to going along with things for a while but eventually they tried to push back and get rid of these people ruling over them. Starting in the year 66 the people tried to gain independence by pushing the Romans out once and for all. For a little while it worked, but within a few years it ended in disaster. The Romans swept back in and wiped everything out. They destroyed Jerusalem, slaughtered the people, and destroyed the temple once and for all. To this day the temple in Jerusalem lays in ruins.

This is what Jesus was telling the disciples about in our reading today. The disciples are admiring the temple in Jerusalem and how magnificent a building it really is when Jesus interrupts by saying that “the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And when He talks about nations rising against nations this is what He is talking about. Jesus even says that before this happens, before Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed, the Christians will be persecuted. This all happens in the book of Acts. After Jesus ascends into heaven and sends the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, disciples of Jesus are taken before courts and tribunals and some are stoned to death for their faith.

As Jesus speaks to His disciples about all of this He is preparing them for these dark and difficult days that lie ahead. Being a disciple, a follower of Jesus, in these days will not be easy and Jesus does not want His followers to be taken by surprise. In the midst of all the doom and gloom, however, Jesus makes some wonderful promises. “Not a hair on your head will perish,” Jesus said, “Bu your endurance you will gain your lives.” And a little later on, “When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

“Not a hair on your head will perish in the midst of what is coming,” Jesus says to His disciples. “Even though you may get dragged into hearings and trials, even though people may hate you, even though they may kill you, not a hair on your head will perish. God knows the hairs on your head, down to the very last one, and He will keep your life. Even though you die He will raise you up to life everlasting.”

“Look up in these dark days,” Jesus says to His disciples, “Your redemption is coming. The day is coming when this all will end and You will rest eternally with Me in paradise. Do not be discouraged or afraid, your God will come and save you.”

These are glorious and encouraging promises and they apply to us too. We aren’t living through the things that Jesus was talking about here, not even close. We don’t live in Jerusalem and we have not seen the kind of destruction that Jesus is talking about. But that does not mean that the world today is without trials, distress, and suffering. This is particularly true for Christians. We aren’t persecuted in the same way that Jesus is talking about here, but being a Christian in North America today is by no means easy or popular. But the promises remain the same. Not a hair from your head will perish, even if you lose your life, and in the midst of it all Jesus encourages you to straighten up, lift up your eyes because your redemption is drawing near. God salvation for us is nearer now than when we first believed!

Right before the sermon we sang “O God Our Help in Ages Past.” I think that hymn perfectly summarizes how we are to understand and regard a reading like our Gospel reading today. Here we see how God promised to be with and care for His people even in the midst of disaster. God was a help for His people in those days and, because of this, we can be sure that He will be a help for us in our days as well. The Word of the Lord endure forever and His promises are eternal.

When hear “O God Our Help in Ages Past” I’m always reminded of Remembrance Day. At the Remembrance Day services in my hometown we always sang this hymn. The promises are true in this sense too. During those dark years of war and fighting God was the help of His people. This doesn’t mean that nothing bad happened to them or even that they did not die, but God remained faithful to His people and even though they may have lost their lives not a hair from their head perished. The eternal life won for them and us on the cross as Jesus died remains God’s faithful promise to us and them even in the face of death.

As Christians then we have tremendous hope as we live out our lives in this world. Not a hair from our heads will perish. In Romans chapter 8 Paul tells us that nothing, nothing at all, can separate us from the love of God that is ours in Jesus Christ who bled and died to pour out that love on us. Nothing can take that love from us.

In this hope we endure. Jesus says, “By your endurance you will gain your lives.” Our endurance is not our own ability to stick with it or not give up. Our endurance is our continuing and ongoing trust in God’s promise to us in Christ. This endurance is sustained and fed by God as He speaks His promise to us again and again in His Word pointing us to the cross where Jesus died to secure eternal life for us and as we are fed with the very body and blood of Jesus our Saviour at this altar. On our own we would wither under the pressure of this world and everything that comes with it, but Christ in us sustains our lives of faith so that we endure all things for the sake of knowing Christ.

And in this hope we hold our heads high, not in pride or vanity, but looking forward to the coming of Christ. Though we may become discouraged at times, Christ invites us to lift up our head and our eyes and see that His salvation is coming. The trials and troubles we experience now serve to remind us that the day is drawing near when Jesus will come again and redeem us from this world of sin. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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