Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Luke 21:33
As the day of Jesus’ death approached, he packed a lot of guidance and instruction into the time he had left in the flesh. The gospel for today includes comments ranging to the end of time. A lot of people spend a lot of time trying to figure out when that moment will come, but that is not the reason Jesus said these words. When he said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away,” he meant to be lifting the concerns of the disciples out of the rut of prophetic decoding.
It is easy for people to be lured into attempts to sort out the prophecies in an attempt to put the date for the end of the world in their calendars. People like calendars. The popularity of organizers and self-help books about time management attest to human fixation on taking control of the flow of time. Yes, I said control of the flow. Human beings do not like the fact that we can’t get a grip on time and slow it down or speed it up at will. Time is completely beyond our reach. Yet humans organize and prioritize and multi-task endlessly in an attempt to control time, anyway. The fact that nobody knows when it will end is distressing. How will we ever get everything done by then? Jesus wanted people to know that his message transcends time. If time is out of control, his word is true. If time is over, his word is true. We don’t need to know when time will end. It is irrelevant to his claim on us and our faith in him.
Those words have two additional values for Christians.
First, no matter what is going on in our lives, Jesus’ words do not lose their power or their relevance. When we become physically ill, we take medicine. There are many different medicines to take, and it is important to use the right one for each disease. Sadly, it is also important to use them with discretion, because some medicines lose their effectiveness with repetition. The words of Jesus apply in all places at all times, and they never lose their effectiveness. His words are true, always.
Second, even if everything in time and space dissolves into eternity, the words of Christ continue to be true and relevant. Nothing that happens now or in eternity changes the message of Christ. Human project management is big on deadlines and milestones. Work must be done as required. We love projects that come in on time and under budget. For that accomplishment to have any meaning, we need to know the point at which the project would be considered a failure. Yet Christ tells us that it doesn’t matter when time ends. His call to us, his claim on us, his words to us do not change just because time ends. When John was given the vision he recorded in Revelation, the crucial element in the vision was the presence of the slaughtered lamb at the right hand of God in the heavenly throne room. Christ and his words are as relevant after history ends as they are today.
Then why did Jesus even bring up the “end times?” His point is not to send us into a calculating tizzy. His point is to remind us that there is no time to waste. We need to be doing his will and living his way right now. We need to get started. We need to be busy doing it right now. His point was not to tell us that we have some certain amount of time to share his love with the world so we can organize our time in little packets and meet some milestone. He wants us to start sharing his love right now and keep doing it till we go to meet him through the doorway of death or until he does, in fact, return.
When Jesus burst on the scene, the gospel writers record that the Holy Spirit fell on him at baptism, and after that, as he roamed the cities and countryside, he talked about “the kingdom of God” coming near. Jesus the Messiah was God in the flesh, and when he came near, the kingdom did, indeed, come near. After Christ’s ascension, the Holy Spirit fell on his followers, and in Paul’s words, their bodies became temples for the Holy Spirit. The first century Christians, and twenty-first century Christians and Christians in the future till the end of time bring the kingdom with them wherever they go because of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Our work is to be the kingdom in the midst of humanity, sharing the love of Christ with everyone we meet. We don’t look in our organizers to see if today is a “witness to Christ” day. Every day is a day for our testimony, because every day Christ’s words are true and Christ’s love is relevant.
It isn’t easy to be faithful. People resist Christ’s words. People resist Christ’s love. People actually become angry when we bring the kingdom of God near. Jesus had the same experience. He brought the kingdom near to the scribes and Pharisees, and they conspired to crucify him. We risk the same fate. Sometimes the resistance is mild, as when someone told me recently that I should not be talking about religion in a conversation about what government ought to look like. Sometimes the resistance is fierce, like when Nigerian church members were ambushed as they left church one Sunday; some were killed, and many were wounded, just because their Muslim neighbors resented the existence of a Christian church in their neighborhood. We must be prepared for people to be upset or even violent in reaction to our faithful testimony.
Jesus told about the way the world will end, and told us he would return, so we would have that truth to build our hope. That information prepares us for the way things really are. The fact that we can’t possibly know when or where to expect to see the end should take the panic away. We don’t have a deadline or a milestone to worry about. All we need to do is be faithful every day. One day he will come again, and when he does, nobody will fail to see it. In the meantime we simply do the one thing he has asked us to do: share his love with everyone we meet. His message will always be timely and relevant, because, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but [Christ’s] words will not pass away.”