25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
In this passage, Jesus describes in figurative language the coming fall of Jerusalem, which occurred within the lifetime of his disciples. The city’s authorities would be overthrown (signs in sun and moon and stars), and forces of famine and war would be unleashed on the people (the roaring of the sea and the waves).
The destruction of the city that rejected Jesus was a preview of the last day, when Jesus will return to judge and to save once and for all. Other previews have happened throughout history; think of the collapse of the Roman Empire, or the destruction of Nazi Germany. Individual lives also feature these sorts of moments. We face seasons when our strength is compromised and we fear being overwhelmed by events we cannot control, like sickness, unemployment, divorce, or the death of loved ones.
In the face of these calamities, Jesus tells his followers to “straighten up,” because their redemption is drawing near. This redemption can take many forms. It may be that Jesus will bring deliverance from terrible circumstances. This will certainly happen on the last day, when Jesus will save his people from judgment and wrath and make them whole and perfect. It may also happen at points in this life. Jesus may bring healing from a disease, reconciliation to a broken marriage, or a job that staves off financial ruin. It may be, however, that Jesus does not deliver from these circumstances, but choses to give comfort or consolation in some other way. He may give joy and peace during a terminal illness, or the gift of friends who lighten the burdens of loneliness and poverty. What is certain is that Jesus comes to his people on the wings of calamity, and he always comes to save.
1. How do you respond to mild hardships or irritations? How do you react to major calamities? How quick are you to complain? How quick are you to pray?
2. Can you remember a time when Jesus brought a dramatic solution to a big problem in your life? How did that act of redemption change you? Did it deepen your confidence in him, and has that confidence continued to grow? Why or why not?
3. Can you remember times when Jesus did not seem to hear your pleas for help? Were you able to accept this, or did it erode your confidence in him? Looking back, is it possible that you missed the way that Jesus showed up with redemption for you? Might there have been something you needed more than changed circumstances? What could that have been?
4. What keeps you from watching in hope for Jesus to visit you? How do the cares of this world blind you to the fact that your time here is short? That the world itself is passing away? How do they blunt your desire to see God? For you and the world to be made perfect forever? How could you arrange your days to heed Jesus’ command to “watch and pray?”
SUGGESTIONS FOR PRAYER
Spend five minutes in stillness and silence. Pay attention to your breathing, and repeat the phrase “straighten up and raise your head, because your redemption is drawing near.” Again, as you notice your mind drifting to things that don’t concern God, use this phrase as an anchor to pull you back. If thoughts emerge in your mind that resonate with this phrase, hold them and savor them in the same way. Don’t analyze, but when your time is over, write down anything that bubbled up. If nothing jumped out at you, don’t be discouraged – that simply means that the Holy Spirit wished for you to do nothing else but to treasure this passage of Scripture, to lay hold of it and believe that it is true of you.
When your time of meditation is done, move into a time of prayer. It may be that the Holy Spirit has prompted you to offer specific prayers of praise, confession, thanksgiving, or petition. If so, pray for these things! If not, consider using the following prayer as a guide for your own:
Heavenly Father, I confess that it is hard for me to trust that you will redeem me from my troubles. It is even harder to believe that you will redeem me in and through my troubles, changing me without changing my circumstances. It is easy for me to live as though this life is all that there is, and to forget that you are training me to live with you for eternity in a world set free. Forgive me for my weak hopes! Stir me up to watch and to pray, so that when you come to me today, I will be ready to greet you and receive whatever you have for my good. Increase and preserve my hope for that day when your Son will come back to redeem me and set all things right.