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 pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name's sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.
(Luke 21:10-19 ESV)
In the first six months of 2011 there have been 1501 tornados reported in the US, resulting in 551 deaths and the loss of billions of dollars of property. There has been major flooding along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. The largest wild fires in Arizona history are burning right now, un-checked. In March a huge earthquake and the resulting tsunami literally changed the shape of Japan.
The government of Egypt fell in mid-February, the leader of Yemen has been badly injured and driven from power by his own people. Libya’s long-standing regime is hanging on by a thread. At the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, ten years of war, and 5550 American lives, we finally got Osama bin Laden. But why are American lives of more value than Iraqi or Afghani lives. I have a good friend who is an Afghani (and a Muslim), and I think his soul is probably just about as important as mine. Estimates are that about 920,000 people have died in the two war zones since 2001. That’s 130 times the number that died in all terrorist attacks worldwide since 1993, and over 300 times as many people as died in the World Trade Center attack. Yeah, making war on your enemies is the best way to keep your country safe.
This spring a large number of people were predicting that Christ would come again on May 21 and that the world would end on October 21. Co-incidentally, the Mayan Calendar runs out on December 21, 2012. What’s with all the 21s? A less ominous prediction was reported last night on the CBS Evening News. Scott Pelley said, “Here’s one that really caught our eye:” Over 25% of homes carrying a mortgage in the US are now worth less than the mortgage value. 14,000,000 people in this country who want work can’t find any, and the government of Greece is hanging on by a thread.
Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Something spiritual is going on here on a grand scale.
Well, yes. Something spiritual is always going on here on a grand scale. Ephesians tells us, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7). The Earth and everything that happens on it is a stage of witness to the grace of God in Jesus Christ. And the audience, as Paul tells us, is the “principalities and powers in heavenly places.”
Maybe I’m oversimplifying the world situation, Jesus’ disciples faced the exact same dire situations in the world as we do today. Knowing that, he told them how important each one is to God. He said that people would haul his disciples before courts and kings. That is happening today, just as it did in Jesus’ day. He said his disciples would be hated in the world because of him. That is happening today, just as it was in his day. He said his disciples would find themselves often at odds with their own family members because of him, just as it is today.
We are no more living in the End Times than Jesus’ own disciples were. And we are living in the End Times. What sounds like a contradiction in the last sentence is no contradiction at all: some of us will be put to death because we believe Jesus. And not one hair on our head will be lost. That’s because -- no matter what else happens -- those who trust Jesus are preciously held by him. “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.” (John 10:29) And nothing, no power above or below, and no sin or virtue of my own is able to change that.
Sometimes it really is better not to pay too much attention to everything we see in the world around us. As a parent, sometimes it really is better for me not to worry about the academic particulars of what my kids believe. He doesn’t worry about the particulars of what I believe. Really. In the confusion of this debt-ridden, war-torn, tornado, earthquake, and fire scarred world: Do they love Jesus? That’s the ultimate question.
“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)