Sermon Ideas For Luke 21:25-36 Part 1
The promise of redemption is a bracketing construct in Luke's gospel. It is introduced in the story of Anna (2:36-39) and is thus explicitly connected to Jesus a little more than a week after his birth. Redemption is re-introduced, cosmically, in this passage of impending cataclysm—less than a week before Jesus' death.
Throughout the biblical account—and this passage is no exception—God's saving activity is redemption. Redemption is a dependable process precisely because it comes at God's initiative and is thwarted neither by human activity nor by natural catastrophe. Often associated or even equated with salvation, atonement, forgiveness, and justification, redemption has its roots in the practice of buying something back. Redemption is, radically, a transaction that recovers something or someone originally belonging to the purchaser which for some reason has passed from possession. Jesus as redeemer is a pivotal image for anyone who is a theologian of the cross and a member of the household of faith.
Luke sets redemption in an eschatological mode in this text. Signs and wonders, however frightening, indicate that redemption is drawing near. While the final consummation is still a future event beyond human apprehension, the divine initiative in redemption, as Luke would have it, is just around the corner. No matter what dynamics may be stirred up in the universe at large, the disquieting and earthly events of betrayal and passion are less than a chapter away. Redemption indeed is drawing near.
The conversation about the end of times which began in Mark 13 continues, in a somewhat different way, in Luke 21. Distress, confusion, and fear are human responses to natural and cosmic catastrophes, the signs of God's activity preceding the coming of the Son of Man.
Jesus borrows these images of turmoil from various prophetic sources: Isaiah, Ezekiel, Joel, and Zephaniah (and they will occur again later in Revelation). Interpreting them in Luke is as difficult as interpreting them in the book of Mark. Trying to explicate the various signs literally or allegorically—or alternatively to dismiss them—creates more problems than it solves.
Focusing on Luke's particular slant in this passage, however, may provide an interpretive window for both the reader and the preacher of the text. Unique to Luke's apocalyptic vision is the notion of redemption, which is introduced in v. 28. In the midst of calamity and upheaval the followers of Jesus are urged to pay attention, to "stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
Jesus elaborates on this statement when, beginning in v. 29, he tells a parable. The sprouting fig tree is a symbol of the coming summer, suggesting the fecund season of growth and warmth. The narrative, based perhaps on material from Job 14:7-17, is more of an embellishment on the previous material than it is a parable in the typical Lucan sense. What is most striking here is that the parable extends the idea that redemption is a good thing that will come from circumstances which might otherwise be seen as fearsome and devastating.
Distopian eschatology would certainly have been better illustrated by some image suggesting the grayness and coldness of winter. Here, the eschatology is green: leaves sprout on the trees, and fruit is in the offing. The fig tree suggests a consoling image of God's garden coming to life, a new creation about to spring forth. This green and fruitful view of the future is very comforting in the midst of chaos; hope in the midst of chaos is the real fruit of the tree of life. (In another arboreal device, Luke has John the Baptist open his narrative with an image of the ax at the root, ready to cut down any tree that does not bear good fruit [3:7-9].)
The people of God are called to live in hope, regardless of things which might understandably strike fear in the hearts of many and cause them to live cynically or irresponsibly. The people of God, who can see beneath the surface of chaos, are enjoined and empowered to live in the confidence of God's victory. They know that, even when the winds of winter blow coldly, summer is already near. No matter what may happen in heaven and on earth—indeed, these may pass away—God's victory is sure; God's words will not pass away.
Living in the certainty of God's victory has consequences, one of which is confidence. With such certainty it is possible to rise above the slavery of cultural norms and breathe the fresh air of God's promise. The observations voiced by Jesus at the end of this passage (vv. 34-36) sound almost Pauline in their tone. While dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of the world may be options for those who live without hope, believers are to be on guard and not be tempted into mundane and vitiating behavior. Being alert at all times and living a life of prayer are eschatological prophylactics, hab its of the heart that make it possible to stand no matter how unsettling the times.
Fearsome times do not in and of themselves create the conditions for libertinism. Quite the contrary, they make it possible for followers of Jesus to live in Christian liberty. In the midst of the smoke and ruin, disciples are urged to be on guard, to sidestep the trap, to be alert at all times. This message is a call to live with eyes open wide for the coming of the Son of Man—in time and in glory.