Sometimes you get a bible reading where it’s really hard to say “this is the Gospel of the Lord – praise to you O Christ”. Today’s Gospel reading appears to be one of them.
Jesus speaks about terrible times ahead for the world but then says that Christians will not only be part of the terrible times but they will in fact face their own personalised torment. The world will face: wars and insurrections, nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful signs from heaven.
As residents of this world we will go through those times. But then Jesus says to Christians: 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. … 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.
This is the Gospel of the Lord??? So what’s the benefit of being a Christian? If we have to face these ordeals anyway – and if we are going to undergo our own specialised suffering because we are Christian, then what is the point?
Well there are 2 points. The first is that whether you are a Christian or not, there is no escaping the terrible things happening in this world. Christians and non-Christians are caught up in natural and man-made disasters. Christians and non-Christians face the dangers that confront every human being including sickness and death. The difference is that as Christians we have hope of better things to come in the hereafter. If we abandon our faith because we believe that God is being unjust in the world then things don’t change physically – but we give up the hope of an end to the suffering of this world. And that’s why Jesus says – “do not be terrified; for these things must take place” (Luke 21:9).
And secondly, when it comes to persecution because of our faith he says he will give us wisdom to know the truth of what is happening. So in times of persecution in the past the church has actually grown and not given up on God. Jesus says: I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.
And he says: not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls. (Luke 21:19). And remember, when Jesus talks about “perishing” he is not talking about our physical death. No, that cannot be avoided. He is talking about our eternal life which can be guaranteed 100% because of our faith in Jesus.
This was God’s mission in sending Jesus as we learn from John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
To perish means to miss out on eternal life. Christians will die in earthquakes, floods, fires, famine and disease. Christians will be diagnosed with terminal disease, face divorce, die in tragic circumstances. Christians will face unemployment, financial difficulties, and even be convicted of criminal offences. That’s all part of the fallen world we live in.
The consequences of living in a fallen world cannot be avoided even by the most faithful Christian. But Christians can and will avoid the judgment of a sinful world where people will face Judgment Day with fear and trepidation because they do not know the outcome of whether they will receive eternal life or perish. Jesus is promising that when we put our faith in him we do not have to worry about that.
As you look at the world today maybe you wonder where our world is heading. The terrorist threats, the economic gloom, the unaffordability of housing, the rise in crime and violence, the fears of climate change, the antagonism towards the church. What we need to remember during all this cataclysmic turmoil is that Jesus is in control. As much as the world seems out of control it is still under the power and authority of Jesus Christ who is seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come (Ephesians 1:21) — to whom has been given the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Philippians 2:10)
Every generation has looked at these passages and believed that they are in the Last Days that Jesus described. The reality is that since the Fall of Adam and Eve we have experienced signs of the end because God has always been working towards our salvation since the Fall. Violence began back when Cain murdered Abel. Earthquakes, thunderstorms, famine and disease were constant in the Old and New Testament. It is not about trying to predict when Jesus will return but living by faith until he returns so that whenever Jesus returns we will be ready.And we will always be ready if our faith is in Jesus Christ alone.
When difficulties arise we may be tempted to put our faith in something else. That’s why Jesus warned – 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. (Luke 21:8). Just like the disciples who were attracted to the temple and how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God (Luke 21:5), we too can be tempted to walk away from our faith to something more tangible especially when God seems to be letting us down. Jesus doesn’t promise us an easy life. Instead, he tells us the truth. It’s not nice to think about those times but ignoring them doesn’t mean they won’t happen.
There is a coming end to this world whether it be the world as we know it or our own death. But Jesus says that we don’t have to fear either of those days because when we put our faith in him not even a hair on our head will perish. But there are so many who still don’t know Jesus or who deny that there will be a judgment. That is our mission and challenge to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world that whoever believes in him will not perish but receive eternal life. THIS is the Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you O Christ.