Trouble Times Three
November 17, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
Isaiah 65:17-25 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 Luke 21:5-19
Have you ever been in trouble?
Or been a part of an organization, or a nation, that was going through trouble?
And, in the middle of that trouble, did you ever wonder where God was, or why God would allow your pain, or why God allowed such trouble to come at all?
As much as we dislike trouble, and as painful as it can be, pain and trouble seem to be an integral part of life itself. Where there is life, trouble seems to be present. And that seems always to have been true. Trouble existed from the beginning of God’s story in Genesis and dances its way through scripture all the way to the end in Revelation. But even though trouble and pain and suffering are always there, it seems fair to wonder what God thinks about it, why God allows it, or what God is doing about it. So, together, let’s explore that idea for a little while.
We begin in the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 65:17-25) as God’s prophet helps the people of Israel to wrestle with what seems like the inevitable destruction of Jerusalem, the capture of her people, and slavery in Babylon for the survivors. They know that trouble is coming, the future seems bleak, and it seems as if God will not answer the prayers of his people.
17 “See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.
20 “Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred
will be considered accursed.
21 They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the work of their hands.
23 They will not labor in vain,
nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
they and their descendants with them.
24 Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.
It is interesting, I think, that God doesn’t offer any explanation as to why the prayers of the people seem to be unanswered or offer any assurance that the threat of death and destruction at the hands of the Assyrians will go away. Instead, God simply begins to talk about the future. Let me say that again, slowly, for effect. God begins to talk about… the future. At the moment when the people of Judea and Jerusalem are beginning to realize that the prophecies of their destruction are about to be fulfilled, and just when they are all beginning to think that they are all going to die and their nation erased from history, it is at that moment, the moment in which the people are beginning to believe that they have no future at all, that God begins to talk about the future.
God says that he will create a new heaven and a new earth that will be so good that we will finally forget the pain of the past. The future that God describes will be a place where crying and pain will be no more. Premature death, for any reason, will be abolished. Even the wild animals of the animal kingdom will set aside their animal natures, the instinct coded into their DNA changed, so that enemies, rivals, predators, prey, victors and victims will all live together in harmony.
Although that future has not yet come to pass, or maybe because that future has not yet come pass, we can find the same comfort that was offered to Israel so many years ago. God declares that there will be trouble, some of it terrible, some of us may not survive it, but God will be with us through it, God will be with us after it, and the future that God promises afterward will be far better than any life that can be offered in our present reality. Yes, there will be trouble. Yes, there has always been trouble, but in the end, even in trouble and suffering… there is hope.
And, just as we know from Isaiah that God’s people are not immune from trouble, the letters that Paul wrote make it clear that the church is not immune from trouble either. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 Paul writes to address several problems coming from inside the church:
6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.
Within the church in Thessalonica, there were people who chose to be disruptive and others who refused to work but who continued to live off the church’s charity. Neither, Paul says, is acceptable. The believers of Jesus Christ should be willing to work, as much as possible, as a part of the common effort of the church and should, in the same way, work together with others rather than creating disruption and division within the body of Christ. Although what we do can sometimes seem to be thankless and unending, and often for what seems to us to be unappreciated or for minimal gain, Paul encourages us to “never tire of doing good.”
The message of Paul is that trouble comes even to the church, but here we should stay away from those who stir up division and try to game the system, but we should also find ways to encourage one another to keep moving forward and doing good.
Obviously, from Paul’s experience, the future that Isaiah saw was not the future fulfilled by the coming of Jesus. At least not yet. We have faith that such a future is coming, but when his disciples asked him about it, Jesus told them that things would get worse before they got better. (Luke 21:5-19)
5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.
In an echo from last week’s message, Jesus warns his disciples that there would be fake news, that others would come who would pretend to be Jesus, or who would pretend to speak for him. There would be a time when the beautiful Temple in which they worshipped would be torn down and destroyed and all the things that they found to be familiar and comforting would be thrown into chaos. But even though Jesus warned them of the trouble to come, he also gave them hope and warned them they needn’t be frightened.
Even though there would be trouble in the future, even though there would be violence and wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilence, and all kinds of other scary things including signs in the heavens, even though the disciples themselves would be arrested, imprisoned, and tried in court, their mission was unchanged. No matter what happened to them, or what happened in the world around them, the followers of Jesus Christ were to tell the world about Jesus. In their trials, and in their trouble, Jesus would give them the words and the wisdom that they needed.
Jesus is clear that his followers would face trouble, trial, suffering, and even death, but even in death, Jesus says, “not a hair on your head will perish.” Isn’t that an odd turn of phrase? “They will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair on your head will perish.” Like the message of Isaiah, Jesus reminds his followers that God is bigger than our trouble. That no matter how bad things get, even if it means the end of life itself, something better is coming. There is a day coming when death will be abolished, and when trouble and pain, mourning and suffering, and even trouble, will come to an end.
Obviously, that day is not yet. For now, we endure trouble times three. There has always been trouble in the past. Today we can expect trouble. And we can expect more trouble in the future. Just because we are the followers of Jesus, or even because this is his church, we are not immune from trouble. But even in trouble, there is always hope.
Something better is coming.
The world that is broken will be made right.
Until then, stay on mission.
“Stand firm, and you will win life.”
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