"Watch out! Don't let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don't let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man." – Luke 21:34-36 NLT
This is Luke's account of the very same message given by Jesus and recorded by Matthew and Mark. So rather than go back over the content that I covered the last two days, I want to concentrate on how Jesus closed His teaching to His disciples. It is clear that some of what He told them was going to take place within their lifetimes, once He had been crucified, resurrected and ascended. He had warned them of this before. When Jesus had sent them out two by two, He had told them, "Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues.You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me.When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time" (Matthew 10:16-19 NLT). If you read further in Matthew's account, you realize that none of this took place while they were out ministering, so Jesus was talking about some future time. It would all be fulfilled once they began their ministry in His absence. The book of Acts records the death of the apostles James and of Peter's imprisonment. "About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration.) Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover" (Acts 12:1-4 NLT).
Church history records that most, if not all, of the apostles died martyr's deaths. So what Jesus told them did come to pass. But in this passage in Luke, Jesus is telling them about things that were going to happen long after they were gone. And yet, He closes His message to them with the words, "Watch out!" He tells them to be alert. Why would He tell them to "pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man"? (Luke 21:36 NLT) The fact is that every generation will suffer their fair share of trials. Jesus had told the disciples, "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world" (John 16:33 NLT). James wrote, "Dear brothers and sisters,when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing" (James 1:2-4 NLT). Paul echoed the same theme: "That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits arebeing renewed every day.For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever" (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT).
Trials are part of life. Difficulties will come. Persecution may be our lot in life. But Jesus told His disciples to watch out. He told them to keep alert. He told them to pray for strength. They were to keep their eyes on the end. They were to live like Jesus was going to come back any day. They were to be prepared for His appearance. Their lives were to be marked by an attitude of anticipation. That's why He told them to not let their hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness. There is no time to get distracted or have your senses dulled by the things of this world. It's interesting that he adds to the somewhat negative acts of carousing and drunkenness, the worries of this life. Jesus had earlier told the disciples, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?" (Matthew 6:25 NLT). Then He went on to say, “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of Godabove all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need" (Matthew 6:31-33 NLT). It is so easy to let the worries and cares of this life get us off task and distract us from what we are really to be doing. We can lose sight of our true purpose as God's people and begin to live as if this is all there is. Rather than live for His coming Kingdom, we try to establish our own little sovereignties right here on earth, with ourselves serving as king and lord of our own domain.
But Jesus said, "Don't let that day catch you unaware" (Luke 21:34 NLT). We are to live in a state of readiness, as if Jesus could appear any day. We need to be alert and diligent. We can't afford to fall asleep at our post or get distracted by the cares of this world. Paul told his young protege, Timothy, "Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them" (2 Timothy 2:3-4 NLT). Paul wanted Timothy to be ready. He wanted him to take his role seriously as a servant of Jesus Christ. He had been commissioned for service by the Lord Himself, and Paul wanted Timothy to serve well. That is what Jesus wants from each of us who call ourselves His followers. The world is going to try to distract us. The enemy is going to try and discourage us. Our own sin nature is going to attempt to defeat us. But we must watch. We must remain alert. And we must pray for strength. But we must also remind one another and encourage each other of the reality that Jesus is coming again. This is NOT all there is. He is not done yet. We have been saved. We are being sanctified. But one day we will all be glorified. Jesus Christ is going to come again and complete what He has begun. That is our hope. That is where we need to keep our focus. One day we will stand before the Son of Man, and all of this will have been worth it all.
Father, thank You that You are not done. Help me to keep my eyes focused on the end. Give me the strength to stand firm, remain alert, to keep my eyes open and to stay faithful. Don't allow me to get distracted by this world. Don't let me get dulled by all that this life offers than can take my eyes off of the hope of Christ's return. Amen.