Weather Forecasting in the Middle East
I can’t remember when I first heard it. I seem to have known it all my life. I wonder if the same is true for you too.
Red sky at night,
Red sky in the morning,
It’s a little piece of folk wisdom really which simply grew out of everyday observation of ordinary folk over many years. The wisdom holds good for those places where weather typically tends to arrive from the west moving eastwards.
Similarly if you saw a cloud rising in the west you might suspect that a shower was on its way. Or if the wind started to blow from the south you might expect the temperatures to rise.
People the world over take an interest in what the weather is doing. In France when the Mistral blows nerves can begin to fray and people’s tempers can seem to be on a short fuse. Or in the Americas the hurricane season arrives and storm warnings are given out telling folk it’s time to batten down the hatches.
Perhaps for us here in our urban environments in the UK normal weather doesn’t have that great an impact on us any longer. If showers are on the way we might take an umbrella with us when we go out but we’re unlikely to let it completely change our plans. The nearer we live to the earth however the more we will be concerned about what lies in store. The farmer will likely be more directly affected by changes in the weather than the office worker for example.
Weather in the M.E. arrives usually from the west so when Jesus spoke about clouds rising in the west being a sure sign of showers to follow his hearers knew exactly what he was talking about.
But why did Jesus talk about the weather at all? What was the point of what he had to say? Especially if the people were already completely aware of what he said?
Reading the Signs
Jesus’ contemporaries lived close to the land and consequently the weather mattered to them. They had learnt how to read the signs that would enable them to understand what kind of weather they were in for and forewarned is forearmed as they say. Knowing whether it was rain that was coming or scorching heat enabled them to take what steps they could to meet each day as prepared as possible.
There were obvious benefits that would accrue if you could read the signs properly.
And if that is the case with something as temporary and passing as the weather then isn’t it more so when it comes to matters of much greater importance? Jesus wasn’t mocking the ability to read the signs of nature; he wanted men and women to be consistent and learn to read the spiritual signs of the times too. Men were adept with natural things but when it came to spiritual perception that was a different story completely.
Jesus spoke out because he wanted to challenge men and women to take spiritual matters seriously. He wanted them to take stock of what was going on around them and to develop a spiritual understanding of just what it all meant. He wanted them to consider where they stood before God and whether their standing was a good one. He wanted them to think about what God was actually doing and planning to do.
Let’s dig a little deeper into this and gather together some of the pertinent facts.
The whole of Jewish history had been marked by a looking forward to a particular moment in history when the LORD would definitively intervene in the nation’s affairs to bring about a long-promised and a long-needed deliverance.
Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve the world had been waiting for the coming of the One who would crush the serpent’s head. As the years rolled by more and more information accrued concerning the Messiah who as God’s anointed one would come to save his people.
That time had now come. Jesus was this Messiah, he was the Christ, the anointed one. But did the people recognise the signs of their day? The expectation was there but were there any signs that might point to its being met right at that time?
Well there were signs and here are some of them:
Jesus’ birth had been surrounded by a series of exceptional events. Angels had prepared for his birth, they had then attended the newborn before finally participating in an impromptu concert out on the Bethlehem hills with shepherds as the only audience.
Well you, say, but no-one else knew. Perhaps... but the birth of this special child was certainly flagged up in Jerusalem within just a couple of years and in a very public manner too!
Some wise men arrived in the capital and started making their enquiries. They were convinced a new king had been born and they wanted to visit him and to pay homage to him. News of all this quickly got to the King and he summoned his advisors – what was all this about?
The religious leaders had no problem at all. The questions the wise men were putting had been answered centuries before in their Scriptures – this new King, the Messiah, would be born at Bethlehem. In the events that followed hundreds of people would be affected as Herod ordered what has come to be known as the massacre of the innocents. There were signs but what did people make of them?
A number of years later and the boy Jesus, now 12 years old, was once more in Jerusalem and again he was causing a stir. He sat in the Temple discussing spiritual matters with the religious experts. As he asked and answered questions these leaders were flabbergasted by the extent of his knowledge and the depth of his understanding.
But still hardly anyone in the wider population took it seriously to heart – only a very few remained hopeful.
A further 18 or so years had since passed and a rough preacher had burst onto the scene: we know him as John the Baptist. He denounced sin throughout society and called upon men and women to repent. Fearless, John didn’t hesitate to call out sin amongst the highest in the land even though it was to prove to be his undoing as he was arrested, imprisoned and then cruelly decapitated to silence his uncomfortable voice and unnerving message and all to satisfy the desires of a wicked woman.
Before he was executed though John had shaken the entire country causing some folk to begin to wonder whether or not John was the Messiah. These folk were trying to read the signs but they had got it wrong as far as John was concerned. John knew he wasn’t the Messiah and said so openly but he also said that he had come to prepare the way for the Messiah. He even clearly identified Jesus as that One when he said to some of his followers:
Jn.1:29 "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
Not long after John’s ministry was brought to a close but by that time the ministry of the man of Nazareth had already begun and what a remarkable ministry it was!
Jesus had gone about preaching and teaching but he wasn’t like the other religious teachers for he spoke with authority – he was a commissioned man who knew what he was talking about. Nor was his ministry confined to verbal teaching: he exercised power in his ministry healing the sick, cleansing lepers, casting out demons, demonstrating power over the natural world and forgiving sins!! He saw his acts of power as acts which corroborated and authenticated his teaching.
These were important facts that had to be taken into account. But what did the crowds make of it all? The religious leaders were reacting with an ever-increasing hostility but were the common people really any better? It would appear that they simply weren’t drawing the conclusions that the evidence warranted. How come the people couldn’t interpret properly what they saw taking place around them? Did these people have eyes but fail to see, ears but fail to hear?
And what about us? Are we so different?
I wonder whether we have all realised that our own lives are marred by sin and that if undealt with our sin will lead to our eternal damnation. Have we realised the urgency of the matter and have we taken steps to settle the matter once and for all by calling upon the name of the Lord? Or are we guilty of misreading the signs of our own day and misinterpreting our present time? Perhaps we think that because some 2,000 have passed that there is no need for us to hurry, that we can go on and on safely putting off important decisions. Perhaps we think that we’ll never have to decide.
The people of Noah’s days thought like that. The construction of the ark was a long drawn-out affair and Noah’s contemporaries thought Noah’s warnings could be ignored with impunity. They could even mock the poor old fool who wouldn’t catch up with the morals of the society he lived in. But, as you well know, the flood came and it was too late, they were lost.
Jesus challenged his hearers for he did not want them to miss their opportunity. He issues a similar challenge to us today because he does not want us to miss our opportunity either. Do not misinterpret the present time: it is a time during which God patiently holds back so that folk like you and I might be saved by his grace in Jesus Christ but God’s patience is not to be abused as though all he had to say about judgment was just so much hot air and empty words.
It only makes sense...
Before we finish up this morning we have a few more verses to consider where Jesus drew yet another lesson from a easy to understand life situation.
Once again instead of simply stating a principle Jesus invites his hearers to think for themselves and to act accordingly.
On the surface it looks as though Jesus is giving a little bit of free legal aid advice but he expects his hearers to be just a little more savvy than that. Jesus did not come to die upon a cross in order that he might give some practical tips to his followers on how to get by in the here and now. He came to die a sacrificial, substitutionary death to save his people from everlasting destruction and to grant them the status of accepted children of God!
Now what was the story he told?
It was a story about a legal case where the accuser is evidently in the right and the accused evidently in the wrong.
In such a situation surely it is the wise and safest course of action to try to settle the matter amicably with the accuser before the matter ever gets to court.
We’re aware today in our own legal system of cases being settled "out-of-court". We understand that such settlements may be a means for the party likely to be found guilty to engage in a certain amount of damage limitation. Reputation may be saved because no public verdict of condemnation is passed and the added risk of having to pay costs is also avoided. The accuser too may be ready to accept such an out-of-court settlement as it avoids the inconvenience of what might be a long business. In a human court there is always the possibility of a wrong verdict being given too.
So isn’t it wise to settle as early as possible, argues Jesus? Doesn’t that make a whole lot more sense than stubbornly holding out until the judgment is pronounced against you because when that happens it’ll be too late. The law applies justice but not compassion! Insist on going on as you are and you’ll end up in the debtor’s prison with no possibility of regaining your freedom until every last penny of your debt has been paid off.
So what does the story mean? What conclusion does Jesus think his hearers should arrive at? Surely it is this:
Men and women knowing their guilt as self-centred sinners before a holy God should most certainly make every effort to settle the matter with their accuser as soon as possible. God is their accuser and will be their righteous judge if they don’t settle now but prefer to wait for judgment. When that judgment is pronounced it won’t be to a prison until their debts have been paid off it will be to prison forever. Their debt is an infinite one and way beyond their means to pay.
But how on earth can a man or a woman settle out of court as it were with God? Well it is only possible because God the injured party invites sinners to do so!
Writing centuries before the coming of Jesus Christ, the LORD spoke through the prophet Isaiah with the following invitation:
Is.1:18 "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."
The lie has long been spread about that God is a kill-joy who is out to get you but nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus tells us that the Father far from being out of sorts with us loves us so much that he longs to save us out of the mess we’ve got ourselves into. To this end he sent his Son so that although his Son would die we might not perish but inherit eternal life.
Here again in this section of Luke’s gospel Jesus is holding out offers of mercy and of grace to any who will listen and heed what he has to say.
If you are worldly wise, full of common sense and know how to read the signs in the natural world don’t you think you should apply yourself to spiritual matters and make sure that you are prepared and ready for the time when you will be called upon to give an account for the way in which you have lived your life.
But don’t think of this as an end of life matter! If you do you’ll try to put things off further but Jesus is for right now – you can enjoy peace with God now; you can have your sins forgiven now; you can live the abundant life that Jesus says he came to offer us.
And what if you already are a Christian? What if you’re already in this wonderful position of being right with God? Can you not help and encourage others to put their trust in him? Can you not pray for someone else? Can you not seek opportunities of speaking a word for Jesus? Can you not think of someone whom you could invite to come along with you to church, perhaps to our special Easter Services?
Well may God bless us and help us all to know how to interpret the present time in which we live.