January 14, 2024 | Peter Rowan
Passage: Luke 23:5-38
As we return to Luke for the next few months, we hear Jesus' last extended teaching before his death. Here he tells us to stay awake, to keep watch, to be careful to not fall asleep in our faith or to be overcome by the cares and delights of this world. There is debate around this passage, whether or not it spoke just to the destruction of the Temple or whether it speaks primarily of the time to come when Jesus's returns. But the big picture is the same for both ideas - stay awake! Keep watch! Don't let the cares of this world or the delights of this world numb you to being ready for our Lord!
It is Epiphany and we are back in the Gospel of Luke. In Epiphany we specifically consider God’s revelation of himself to the world in Jesus and we have always here taken this time to look at the gospels. Actually, specially, since I have been here, we have been slowly making our way through this gospel that Luke wrote. We will be in this gospel until we finish it at the end of April and actually, as it happens, it will help us journey with Jesus to the cross and then reflect on the resurrection very well.
But today we have this long passage for us. Some call this the Olivet discourse and while we really could have broken this up a little more I think it is worth taking it together. Jesus seems to give it as one speech and Luke shows us that by speaking of the temple in verse 5 and then again in verse 37 and 38. So, though this is kind of long, we are going to take it all together. That also means I’m not going to get into some of the details of this passage like I do at other times.
I want to tell you the main point of this sermon right here at the beginning and it is found for us at the end of this passage: Watch yourself and stay awake! That’s how Jesus ends this speech he gives and that is the main point. I’ll say more, but first I want to share with you about a Bluey episode.
Some of you likely watch Bluey. Bluey is an animated show from Australia about a dog family, specially a breed called bleu heelers which is a type Australian cattle dog. The show is mostly about Bluey who is about 6 years old and her mom and dad and her little sister Bingo. It is amazing and all of you should watch it and those fans of Bluey among you will likely know that there were some new episodes released on Friday! Anyway, there is an episode of Bluey (not one of the new ones) called “Sleepytime” and it is so good because every parents can relate to it. It mostly tells the story of Bingo, the younger sister, and her being put to bed and how she has to have her stuffed bunny and has to read a few different books and then when she falls asleep she dreams about outer space, because that was the subject of the last book her mom had read to her. Anyway, she starts sleep walking and gets in bed with her parents and her mom ends up moving into Blueys bed and Bluey get in the parents bed with the dad and then Bingo is kicking the dad while she is dreaming and then Bluey starts kicking the dad while they are all sleeping. Then the dad sort of wakes up and brings Bingo back to her bed and then sleep walks to the bathroom and while he’s in there Bingo sleep walks back to his bed so that she is there when he gets back. And it is all just incredibly funny and sort of sad because we are living that life!!!!
I mean, literally, Melise and I are living that life at times!
But also, as I was thinking through this passage I was thinking, that’s actually helpful for us with this passage. We are all either asleep or want to be asleep! And I don’t mean asleep physically, but asleep to God. Like Jesus means here.
And Jesus gives us a couple reasons why we tend to fall asleep to God, to not be attentive to him and to not wait for him! Down in verse 34 he says this:
34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life
Two things here: he says we can fall asleep to God because of the good gifts of life and because of the bad times of life.
Asleep because of the good
Bingo in this Bluey episode was so overtaken by the book about outer space that her mom had just read to her that as soon as she falls asleep she cracks out of the earth and starts floating into space and then she looks over and what happens, but her favorite stuffed animal, he little bunny, cracks out of the moon and they starts floating towards one another. Then they start making their way around outpace and visiting other planets (which is actually when she is sleep walking to her parents bedroom to get in their bed and wreck the havoc that children do on their parents at night!). But here’s the thing, she is so asleep because the dream is just so good!
Dissipation. Can mean the breaking up of something, but it also means the excessive pursuit of pleasure. That’s why it is connected in verse 34 with drunkenness. An excessive pursuit of pleasure.
How did this passage begin? It began like this: 5 And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
This whole long discourse of Jesus that ends with “Keep watch!” and “Stay awake!” begins with people looking at the temple and speaking about how great it was and how nice it all was and how it was just so adorned with such beautiful stones and carving and draperies and all the rest and what we need to acknowledge and be on our guard about is that the good things in life can actually be a distraction from the main thing in life. Their obsession with the Temple (which was for a thousand years God’s house among them) kept them from God in the flesh right their in front of them! The Temple, which was a good thing, kept them from Jesus.
Jesus tells us in his famous sermon on the mount, “19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
And it’s true, we can be asleep to God because of very good things. We can store up the good things to the point that our heart is given over to them instead of to God. How tempting is it parents to make your kids the main thing in life? And then, how often your kids sports become the reason to neglect worship with God’s people and then that so often leads to a real distance from God!
Don’t fall asleep to God because of the good things of life.
MP 2: Asleep because of the bad
But that’s actually not the main part of this passage, the main part has to do with being asleep to God because of the bad things.
You know, what’s really painful in the Bluey episode is what you don’t see. What do I mean? Well, so, the dad, his name is Bandit, is not only being kicked while he’s asleep, but he is also clearly basically asleep while he is awake and you get the sense that he is still going to be asleep when he is going on with his next day. I mean, his sleep has been so bad that he isn’t really going to be awake when he is awake.
This is to say that sometime we are just asleep to God because there are so many bad things in life.
This is really what Jesus is warning the people about. He says this is a few ways.
First, he says even this beautiful temple will be destroyed.
6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Then they say, “When?”
And he, wait, let me tell you another thing: “There are going to be people that claim to be me but aren’t.” False teachers. False Messiahs. People that lie to you in my name!
He says, third, there are going to wars and there are going to be natural disasters: Verse 10 and 11. 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.
He says, fourth, there will be persecutions for being a Christian. You will be put on trial for your beliefs.
Verse 12 12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues (your social group) and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.
He says, fifth, that your own family won’t love you because of him.
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.
Ok, let’s stop there for a moment. We could keep going on, but listen. He’s saying, some of these things are going to happen because you are a Christian!
Some of us will be asleep to God because the things we love (like the Temple) will be taken from us. Some of us will fall asleep to God because religion itself has been used harmfully and has lied to us even about God. Some of us will fall asleep to God because we look out at the world and see horrible natural disasters and we see the horrendous destruction that happens in wars and we question where he is in all of it! Some of us will fall asleep to God because we hate the feeling of telling someone we are a Christian only to be dismissed and laughed at and mocked. Some of us will fall asleep to God because our parents think we are silly and immature, our friends thing we are delusional and our children think it is all just so antiquated and out-dated - not keeping up with the times!
You see, it is true, the next part of this discourse (vv 20-24) talk about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple that took place in AD 70 and that absolutely rocked the Jewish world at that time. The description here about fleeing to the mountains in verse 21 really happened - that’s partly why we have the dead sea scrolls from the Qumran community, people fleeing Jerusalem. There really was the great Roman - Jewish war that took place in those years. It’s widely agreed on that that is what Jesus is talking about here. It is also mostly agreed upon that he then goes on to talk about his second coming and the judgement that will come at that day. But the big point here is will all of this cause you to fall asleep to God?! Or, instead, will you be able to read the times like you read the fig tree? Will you be able to see that this world cannot offer you safety? That you cannot find your hope and your life in religious leaders, or in religious building or in the good things that you are giving in this life?
Brothers and Sisters, these were not wild thoughts for Jesus to speak to those were listening to him at this time! Not at all! This passage is found between Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his being handed over to be killed and all of his friends disowning him!! His friends who had been with him for years, who had seen him perform such wondrous miracles, who had heard him teach with power and conviction. Those friends came upon hard times and fell asleep to God! Do you not think that you might do the same? Stay awake! Keep watch! Don’t give in to the good things to the neglect of the greatest thing! Don’t allow the pain of this life (which is very very real!) to draw you away from God.
It was through the cross that new life came. It was through the cross the resurrection happened. We may question what God is doing allowing the Romans to come and destroy his holy city or allowing the natural disasters that wreck havoc on his creation or the wars that bring such destruction to our world - you may question what is happening, but do not, do not, fall asleep to God!
Sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning. Keep watch! Stay awake! “Prepare to meet your God,” cried the OT prophet Amos. “Flee from the wrath to come,” called out John the Baptist. “May you find mercy from the Lord on that day,” prayed Paul the Apostle. “Be always on the watch and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen,” warned the Lord Jesus himself.
The Gospel of Luke is best described by its author in the first four verses of the book: "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught."