The Things That Make for Peace

Lord, make us to know your ways, teach us your paths. Illumine us now, that we may open our hearts to Your Son, Jesus Christ, and yearn for His coming. Amen.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. Advent is a season of waiting—waiting for Christmas, that amazing and incredible day when God sent His only beloved Son into the world as a newborn infant. That day that changed everything forever for all of humanity. But we’re also waiting for that same Son of God to come again. In the words of the Apostles’ Creed, “to come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”

Most of us aren’t fond of waiting—and yet waiting has been a part of God’s plan for His people from the very beginning. God called Noah to build an ark—a process of painstaking work that took 100 years to accomplish. Then God filled the ark with a multitude of animals and called Noah and his family to join them, shutting them up as the first drops of rain fell from the sky. And they waited—waited 40 days for the waters to stop falling from the heavens. And then waited for 11 more months for the earth to be dry enough for them to finally come out of the ark.

Abram was 75 years old when God called him to go to the land that the Lord would show him. God promised to make him the father of a great nation—and then Abraham and Sarah waited 25 years for the child God had promised them.

God rescued Jacob and his family from famine by bringing them to Egypt, but eventually, after Joseph died and everyone forgot about him and how he’d saved the nation from famine, the Egyptians made the Israelite people their slaves. They waited for God to rescue them—waited for 400 years before God finally called Moses to lead them out of Egypt.

Then, when they refused to trust Him, God left them in the wilderness for 40 years. Later, when Judah was conquered by the Babylonians, God allowed them to be exiled for 70 years. When they finally returned to Judah, He let them wait for another 400 years for John the Baptist to announce the coming of the Messiah.

Waited for the time to be right.

Jesus waited, too. He was conceived in His mother’s womb, and then waited nine months to be born. Then He waited 30 years to begin His public ministry—waited until the right time.

And now, as Luke brings us to the final section of his gospel, as Jesus approaches the city of Jerusalem, as He approaches His death, Luke tells us that as Jesus “drew near and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41).

Jesus looks at the city before Him, with the temple rising above it—and He weeps. The original temple, built by King Solomon, was destroyed in the sixth century BC. It was replaced by the second temple when the Jews returned from exile in Babylon. And now King Herod has poured huge sums of money into the renovation of this temple, covering much of its exterior with silver or even gold, the rest in white marble, so that, from a distance, it looked like a snow-capped mountain peak.

The Jewish people were enormously proud of both the temple and their nation’s capital city. And as they greet Jesus on this Palm Sunday, it’s clear that their expectation is that He’s about to take the throne in the royal city.

Jesus knows all this—and He weeps. Weeps because He knows what’s coming. Not just for Him, but for the Jewish people. Knows that in the year 70 AD, Roman soldiers will come in and destroy not just the temple, but the entire city. Knows that it will be a time of horrible suffering for the Jewish people.

And although the people don’t understand any of this, He tells them right here that the coming destruction will happen “because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:44).

Jesus weeps because the people calling Him King have no idea what that means. He is indeed the “King who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 19:38)—but king of what? King of this city that will, within a generation, be destroyed?

Jesus is King—but the earthly Jerusalem is far too small and much too mean, much too filled with sin, to contain His majesty. Jesus is King—of all nations in all places. He is the Savior of the world. His kingdom is for every city, every people—but the Jews have failed to recognize this.

Jesus weeps—weeps because the Jewish people have forgotten who God is. When God called Abraham 2000 years earlier, He’d called him to be a blessing to all nations. The prophet Isaiah, 700 years earlier, reminded the Jewish people that God had promised to bless any foreigners who committed themselves to the Lord, who would “serve him and love his name” (Isaiah 56:6).

Jesus weeps because not only had the Jews failed to welcome foreigners, they themselves had failed to “serve him and love his name.” They’d failed to “Be just and fair to all. To do what is right and good” (Isaiah 56:1).

Jesus weeps because He knows that even though He is about to die in order to throw open the gates of the Kingdom of God to all people everywhere, many of them will refuse to enter—refuse to enter because they refuse to admit that they are not lord of their own destiny, captain of their own ship. Refuse to believe Jesus Christ, Son of God, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Jesus weeps—Luke is simply reiterating the message of his entire gospel. There are only two groups of people in this world that matter—those who believe in Jesus as Lord, and those who don’t. Those who are willing to follow and serve Him, and those who aren’t.

It doesn’t matter to Jesus whether you’re Republican or Democrat, whether you’re rich or poor, black or white, American or Russian—all that matters to Him is whether you believe in Him. Believe in Him enough to take up your cross and follow Him.

But is it possible that many of us in the American church have become so much a part of the secular culture in which we live that we no longer really believe that it’s necessary for us to take up our cross? In a culture in which many believe that we’ve come to a place where we’re so in control of everything that we can make ourselves over into whoever or whatever we want to be, even to the point of changing our gender? A place where it seems that we’re on the brink of a scientific breakthrough that will allow us to somehow become one with machines and so live forever? A place where some wonder why we need Jesus at all when we’re so clearly in control, while others who still believe in Him perhaps think that we’ve figured out a way to follow Him that can be free of pain and suffering?

But Jesus still died on a cross—and Jesus is still King, whether or not we choose to believe it. The cross left Him with scars—when Jesus rose from the dead, He had a new body, but it was a body that retained the scars from the nails that had been pounded into His feet and His hands. Retained the scar from the spear that had been thrust into His heart.

When the resurrected Jesus appeared to His disciples, it was by His scars that they were able to recognize Him. And if we desire to follow Jesus, we, too, must be recognized by our scars. We cannot be identified as His followers by our successes, by our wealth, by our accomplishments—only by our scars.

And as we begin this season of Advent, this message has perhaps never been more relevant. Luke wants us to understand that the Kingdom of God is centered on the cross. It’s not about the political transformation of society—because political transformation can never happen without the spiritual transformation of the individual soul.

“The things that make for peace” are not the right person sitting on a throne in Jerusalem. Not the right person in the White House or on Capitol Hill or in Moscow or Beijing or anywhere else. “The things that make for peace” begin in the human heart.

Jesus weeps because He’s spent three years showing the people of Israel what these things look like—and the vast majority of them were too blind to see what was right in front of them and too deaf to hear what He was saying.

2000 years have passed and many of us still can’t see, still can’t hear. Even people in the church are often unable to remember “the things that make for peace.”

Jesus weeps because as He enters the final week of His journey to the cross, He knows that even many of the people who claim to believe in Him will refuse to take up their crosses and truly follow Him. He’s been preparing His followers to think not in terms of immediate success and quick returns, but of long delay and protracted struggle. He wants them—and us—to understand that the kingdom must grow throughout the King’s extended absence. And that He’s placing the work of growth in our hands.

John 4:35 “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes and see that the fields are white for harvest.’”

On the Day of Pentecost, the followers of Jesus immediately got up and went outside and began to share the good news of the gospel with the people gathered there. The church grew by leaps and bounds because growing it was the most important work of those people who believed in Jesus.

But it’s been 2000 years—we’re still waiting for Jesus to return. And somehow the work of sharing Him has lost its urgency. We tend to say, “We’ll get around to sharing the gospel someday—maybe when we’re not so busy. When the kids grow up. When I’m not so busy with the grandchildren. When I retire. When I’ve accomplished all the things I want to accomplish. When I’ve reached my career goals.”

Jesus says, “There’s no time to waste. Do it now.”  

Jesus looks at the city of Jerusalem and weeps—because He knows that there is nothing more important that recognizing that the King has come, that He’s been right here in our midst, right here telling us and showing us how to live. He came even knowing that, for most of us, we’re far too distracted by the beauty of the temple, the things of the world, to listen, to pay attention.

He came knowing that the final result will be that not only might we fail to be welcomed into the Kingdom of God, but that, because of our failure to not just believe in, but to follow Jesus, many others might also fail to ever even hear the good news. Might fail to be included.

Paul wrote to Titus is 3:14, “Our people must learn to do good by meeting the urgent needs of others; then they will not be unproductive.”

We see the spiritual transformation of souls when we treat others as Jesus would treat them. How are we doing at that?

When we see someone in need, do we respond in compassion and love? Or do we think that they need to work harder or manage their money better? That maybe they need to get their act together? Do we feel superior because we’re not struggling like they are?

Are we more concerned about growing our own personal kingdoms, about acquiring enough money to ensure our personal security, than we are about doing whatever it takes to welcome others into the Kingdom of God?

Do we care more about our stuff and our bank balance than we do about the family down the street who has nothing? Or the people whose power is about to be shut off because they can’t afford to pay the bill? Or about the couple that had nothing at all to eat on Thanksgiving while the rest of us were feasting? Are we even paying enough attention to what goes on around us to notice them?

Are we acting like the Pharisees that Jesus was so critical of, thinking that living the right way is all about keeping rules. Not just biblical rules, but the rules that we’ve set for society? Rules for proper behavior—rules about the way we look and the way we dress and the way we care for our property and the way we work and pay our bills?

We hear that the economy is great and that there are jobs for everyone, but we received many more angel tree tags this year than last—indicating that right here in our own communities, there are more people struggling than there were a year ago. Do we just shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, there’s lots of work out there. It must be their own lack of initiative, their own fault.”

Do we stop and ask ourselves whether there are problems going on in their lives that might prevent them from working? Or wonder why, if they are working, they’re having so much trouble? Are there medical bills or health problems? Perhaps a battle with deep depression?

Do we care? That’s the test that Jesus has put before us. Do we care about the less fortunate? Do we care about people who are different from us? And do we care that there are men and women and children dying today who don’t know Jesus? Don’t know because so many of us who do know Him don’t care about Him enough to make Him our greatest purpose in life?

We’re waiting for Jesus to return—waiting because He’s allowing us time to grow the kingdom. Waiting because He’s allowed us time to anticipate the wonder of what His return will be like.

And isn’t it interesting that December is the time when we focus on that waiting? Because December is the one month of the entire year that is different in very distinctive ways. It has its own special décor and music. We sing that it’s the “most wonderful time of the year.” And everyone is affected by the season.

Advent confronts us and it changes us. How we spend this month will either make us better or worse. Because what we do matters. When Christmas comes, will you be closer to Jesus than you are right now? Or farther away? Will you love Him more or will your heart have grown harder toward Him? Will more fog lie between your eyes and His face, or will you see Him more clearly? Will you know and enjoy Him more?

Waiting is never easy—but God can, and will, use our time of waiting for good, if we will but let Him.

Most of you have probably heard of Andrew Brunson, the American pastor who, with his wife, had served as a missionary to Turkey for more than 20 years when he was arrested and imprisoned in 2016. Pastor Brunson said that his two greatest fears in prison were losing his faith and losing his mind. He said that he would repeat to himself over and over that God was involved in his suffering, that there was a purpose for it, and that it had eternal value because it was suffered for His sake.

The hardest part, he said, was that, while he wasn’t surprised by persecution—he knew that God tells us to expect it—what he was surprised by was the feeling of abandonment he felt in prison. He said that he’d expected strength from God to pour into him. He’d expected to feel an overwhelming sense of God’s grace.

When that didn’t happen, he became suicidal. But then he began to realize that, while he had lots of questions for God, God had questions for him, too. “Are you going to continue to love me? Are you going to remain faithful even if you feel abandoned and disappointed?”

He was being tested. He knew it and he said it was extremely painful. But he discovered that in the testing, he grew to know God is a much more intimate way.

And he said that someday the people who persecuted him, the people who persecute his brothers and sisters around the world, are going to encounter Jesus. He said, “They will encounter Him as a Lamb, if they’ve surrendered to Him. Or else they will encounter Him as a Lion. They will meet Him and He will make all things right.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is the message of the entire Bible. God is with us—with us and in control of all things. With us as He sends His son Jesus into the world to throw wide the gates of heaven, inviting us into the Kingdom of God. With us as we wait for the return of His Son, who will bring—finally—“the things that make for peace.” But who will also bring judgment, bringing, as Jesus, just a few verses earlier, told the people: “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me” (Luke 19:27).

And so, during this season of Advent, let God change you. Change you in a way that draws you closer to Him. Change you in a way that makes you better able to follow His command to not only love Him, but to love one another as He has loved us.

He loved us enough to die for us. What are we willing to do for the lost and forsake people all around us?

Pastor Brunson said that he can already see his imprisonment as a part of preparing for harvest, mainly because of the worldwide prayer movement it started. He said it was as if God was saying to him, “I can set you free. I can take you out of prison, but if you’re willing to stay, I will do something greater.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus has called us to be a people of prayer. He’s called this house to be a house of prayer. In January I called for this to be a year of prayer. May this month of December, this time of waiting, be a time when we join that worldwide prayer movement in a way that really matters. Matters not just in improving the world in material ways, but in bringing in that great harvest of souls.

This is what Luke would have us learn from his Gospel. God has given his only Son to die on the cross. By virtue of that death, he offers to the hearts of men salvation from sin and a new life. Then he gives them the centuries of Christian history in which to proclaim that salvation far and wide—for it is of the whole world that He will one day be Savior and King.