Preparing Our Defense…Or Not

Posted on 21 Nov 2019

“Preparing Our Defense…Or Not”

Luke 21:5-19

November 17, 2019


To our children who just received their Bibles –

Did you know that in 1450 a man named Johann Gutenberg invented the

movable-type printing press, and in 1455 he produced the first book ever 


Does anyone know what that book was? 

Yes, the Bible, and ever since Gutenberg first printed the Bible in 1455,

some 564 years ago, the Bible has been the most printed book every year

ever since, even until the present day, even more than Harry Potter or The

Lord of the Rings, even more than Dr. Suess or John Grisham or Stephen


And hear this, for those of us with a smartphone…

I read recently that, if you combine all the Bible apps together,

the Bible is the most downloaded app of all the apps available! That’s



Watching the children receive the gift of their Bibles reminds me of one of

our family stories about a certain night time prayer I would offer when I

was a young boy. I don’t remember offering the prayer, of course, but I

have heard my mom tell the story many times.

For those of you who know me well, you know that I don’t miss too many


I like to eat. I am not a picky eater. I try to eat healthy food, most of the

time, but I will eat most anything offered to me, especially cookies. 

Some of you know that I also love to sing.

Like some of you I will sing in out loud in worship or sing in the car.

I will sing along with a good song, no matter what the genre.

During my childhood years, I sang in the church choir, and I learned, as did

many of you, the old favorite, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible

tells me so.”

Food, singing, and the Bible – all important elements of my life, from my

earliest days until now.


So, as the story is told, when my mother was putting my sisters and I to bed

at night,

Mom claims that I would often offer the following prayer:

“My Bible, my supper, Jesus loves me. Amen.”

“My Bible, my supper, Jesus loves me. Amen.”


As Presbyterians, we center our worship and seek to center our lives on the


We consider that the Bible is so central that this would not be Christian

worship without the Bible being read and proclaimed. 

The symbolism of processing in the large Bible and placing it front and

center should not be missed.

The relative size of this pulpit is significant.

It’s not about the preacher, but about the importance of the Proclamation

of the Word.


It should also be said that the Bible is not easy, and the Bible is multivalent –

that is, almost any passage of Scripture can be interpreted in various ways.

There is most often not one simple answer.

Have you ever seen that bumper sticker with a picture of a Bible that says:

“God said it; I believe it; that settles it”?

I don’t like that bumper sticker.

Any form of serious Biblical scholarship is not flat or one-dimensional.

The Bible is probably the most unsettling book that ever has been printed.

In the Presbyterian Church, we don’t encourage a quick settlement of

difficult issues.

We encourage hard questions. We encourage wrestling with the text.

We encourage wrestling with each other over the text.

We encourage wrestling with God when we come to a challenging passage.


Today’s reading is one such challenging passage.

Jesus is speaking about the end times and the persecution of the faithful.

He is warning his disciples that those who stick to their faith in challenging

times will be persecuted and attacked if they do not go along with the

whims of the unfaithful.


Hear the Word of God from Luke 21:5-19.

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’

They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them.

‘When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

‘But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.


Friends, we just gave these words to our children.

We just handed Bibles to third graders, Bibles which include these difficult,

but true words…

Disciples of Jesus Christ, during certain challenging times in human

history, you will be arrested and persecuted.

You will be handed over to be beaten and imprisoned.

You will be brought before governors and kings.

You will be betrayed by family members.

Some of you will be put to death.

You will be hated because of the name of Jesus.

Yet not a hair of your head will perish, and by your endurance you will gain

your souls.

These are difficult words. These are words that many probably do not want

their third graders to hear.

None of us want to hear that we will suffer for the sake of the Christian


None of us want to hear that following Jesus may lead to persecution and



Some years ago, Dudley Larus, one of our leading elders, inquired with me

about starting a new Bible Study group.

Dudley tells the story that I warned him at that time.

“Be careful”, I said. “If you study the Bible, it will change your life!”

 And it did. It changed his life.

Dudley says my warning, or what I might call my “encouragement”, held


Reading the Bible, and studying the Bible with others, will change your life.

No doubt.

The Bible comforts and confounds us;

the Bible directs us and confuses us;

the Bible engages us and conflicts us. 

Reading the Bible transforms us.

Often the Bible sends us in directions far different from what we hear

from the prosperity gospel preachers on television.

The Bible leads us to live lives of righteousness…and lives of justice.

Those two words are paired over 200 times in the Old Testament.  

The Bible directs us to sing praises….and to care for orphans and widows,

 and to welcome the immigrant and the stranger.

The Bible says that we read our Bibles and pray….and speak the truth to

power, even at great personal risk.

The Bible encourages us to kneel before the cross in worship….and to take

up our cross and follow Jesus.


One of the most intriguing aspects of today’s text is Jesus’ encouragement

NOT to prepare our defense in advance.

Jesus says, when you are persecuted, when you are brought forward to

testify, DO NOT prepare your defense in advance.

When you find yourself being attacked,

when people are uttering all kinds of false statements about you,

trust in the Spirit, lean on the Spirit,

and God will give you the words to say, just like the prophets of old.


I could not help but connect this passage I was studying this week with the

impeachment hearings.

A 33 year state department official was asked many difficult questions on


She did not seem to go on the offensive, nor did she seem to have a

defensive stance.

Her long term experience in the diplomatic world seemed to guide her

carefully worded responses.

For each question asked, Marie Yovanovitch seemed to be a credible

witness who had become caught up in something much larger than herself. 

Her commitment seemed to be to testify to the truth of her own experience,

as best she could.


What might it mean for the average churchgoer to approach persecution or

attack not terrified, not with a defensive posture, not with a ready defense

for whatever someone says, not with our “dukes” up, ready to fight,

but committed to truthfulness and endurance.

What if we considered any personal attack or persecution an opportunity to

testify, to testify to what is good and true, to testify what we stand for,

and an opportunity to seek to understand what the other person stands for?


Have you heard of “Cancel Culture”?

Recent articles have described this very disturbing trend among young

people in the United States. 

When someone feels like they have not been considered by another,

or knows that they disagree with another about some important issue, they

“cancel” them.

They cut off all ties, not just on social media, where they cancel their online

connections, but they cut them off personally as well.

They act as if the other person does not exist, even if they share the same

classroom or lunch room.


Yesterday afternoon, we held a beautiful memorial service here for Rev. Bill

Goodwin. Bill was 93 years old, many years retired from serving as a

United Methodist pastor.

Bill served a number of congregations in Texas over a span of more than 40


There are many aspects of Bill’s character and service that were admirable,

but perhaps none as telling as the nature of one of his closest friendships.   

Bill was fast friends and regular conversation partner with someone whose

political views were the polar opposite of his.

Bill and his friend did not allow their different views of politics to spoil

their relationship.

Their relationship with one another as human beings with mutual respect

came before any political disagreement or any theological  or biblical



In the Presbyterian Church, as I have said before, we assume that there will

be difference in these pews.

We assume that you will disagree with your neighbor about many things.

We assume that people of good faith will not always come down at the same

place on issues of great importance.

We also are aware that people of good faith will at times be “cancelled” or

persecuted or attacked by others.

Jesus said, DO NOT prepare your defense in advance.

Don’t put up a wall against your neighbor.

Don’t assume a defense will be needed.

Don’t show up armed to the teeth.

Any persecution, any attack may be an opportunity to testify,

to share with others what you stand for, to stand up for what is good and

true and right.

In the Presbyterian Church, we do not talk much about the second coming

of Christ.

Most of us don’t stockpile food or weapons in preparation for the end

times. Most of us don’t worry about Christ coming again every time we time

hear of war or rumors of war.

Even so, there is an encouragement in Luke 21 for us who may feel too

complacent or too secure.

Just after our text for today, Luke told his readers what Jesus had told his

disciples a generation earlier.

When the challenging days come, ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not

weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this

life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.

For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.

Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all

these things that will take place,

and to stand before the Son of Man.’ Luke 21:34-36


Whether life is going well or we are facing persecution of some kind

or we have been betrayed by a friend or family member,

or we are undergoing some other kind of tribulation,  

the Bible encourages us to live our lives according to the way of Jesus

Christ, to live each day the best that we can.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, in every age, in every circumstance,

we are called to be hopeful, not fearful.

We are called to be peaceful, not anxious.

We are called to enjoy the goodness of this life, but not enjoy to excess any

of God’s gifts.

We are called to be intentional with how we spend our time,

generous in how we expend our resources, and faithful with how we live in

our relationships.


Whether the earth will last another million years or just a few more weeks,

we really do not know.

Whether the current troubles we face, whether in our nation or personally

or at work, will get better or will get worse, we really do not know.

What we do know is that the Bible tells us to stay awake, to be alert,

to keep living our lives faithfully and well, and to watch out for false

prophets who would lead us astray.   

And the promise is that when we lean on the grace of Jesus Christ,

when we read our Bibles and trust in the Spirit to give us the words to say,

when we are willing to testify to the truth when all the world is falling apart

around us, then our endurance will be rewarded, and our very souls will be


To God alone be all glory, power, and honor, now and always.



Rev. Dr. J. Todd Speed

Decatur Presbyterian Church, Decatur, Georgia