Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Have We Become Comfortable in an Uncomfortable Place?

By Allen White

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:3-14

Sometimes we just shouldn’t ask the question. “Do I still have a job here?” “Is there a future in this?” Sometimes we might not want to ask the question, because we really don’t want to hear the answer. Maybe we should just let things blow over. Maybe we don’t need to worry about it.

But, the disciples asked the question, “Tell us, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” You have to wonder if they regretted that.

What did the disciples expect to hear? “The beginning of the end will result in the humiliation of your enemies and incredible success in your ministry. You will be treated like kings – wearing the finest clothes, driving the best cars, and living in the lap of luxury. I’ve got to get you guys used to living in Heaven, so to easily transition your experience, I’m going to give you a little Heaven on earth as preparation.” If that’s what they were expecting, Jesus’ answer pointed closer to Hell on earth.

Some of the things Jesus described have already happened. Some of this is yet to happen. And, some of this prophecy will repeat itself.

In interpreting Scripture, we have to keep a key principle in mind: whatever was taught or written to an audience was understood by that audience. Jesus wasn’t just pointing to some distant tribulation period. He was warning His disciples about a tough, uphill climb. They weren’t headed down easy street.

The persecution of the early church was just over the horizon. But, hadn’t they been through enough? After all, they had to watch their Savior endure torture and death. Now, as the reward for facing all of that, they were going to face more?

Jesus firmly declared to His followers: “Heaven is not a place on earth” (apologies to Belinda Carlile). Persecution strengthened their faith. Persecution caused the Church to disperse into other areas. The tough circumstances that drove them out of Jerusalem put them in the places God ordained for them to be (Acts 17:26). People heard the Good News for the first time and were saved.

If Jesus intended to only make His disciples comfortable, they would have stayed in Jerusalem. But, opposed to our American view of Christianity, God didn’t save us merely to make us more comfortable. Don’t get me wrong. God offers plenty of peace and comfort for our souls. But, why would we ever depend on God if we could comfortably depend on ourselves?

Jesus cut to the chase: “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” Pay attention here. The disciples weren’t persecuted for being jerks. They were persecuted because of Jesus. If the world has become comfortable to us, we might want to ask ourselves whose side we’re being drawn toward.

Does the evening news make you sick? Does the callousness break your heart? Do the lives of broken people drive you to your knees?

You and I aren’t involved in a friendly game. We are engaged in war. Our enemies aren’t other people, crooked politicians, or an overly sexualized culture. Our enemies are spiritual (Ephesians 6:12), but our God is greater.

If we make it to the end, we will receive our reward. If we drift away, well, that’s another story.

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