Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 24 and Genesis 47 & 48
I have never had a baby. Shocker, I know! As a male member of the human race the act of childbirth has and will forever elude my lived experience. However, as a father of eleven Fletchers, I have spent many years of my adult life in the company of pregnant women, or more precisely, a pregnant woman. I was there for all eleven births and I caught most of them (the last one came so quickly that I caught him solo). All this is to offer to you my credentials that, although never directly experiencing labor, I have been present for enough births to recognize the various stages that women go through in childbirth. Fun fact, for women who have more than one baby the Braxton Hicks contractions (otherwise known as false labor) can come several weeks or even months before the baby is actually born. Braxton Hicks contractions are one way that the body prepares itself for labor. It’s like an athlete doing warm up exercises before the actual event. Muscles tighten and relax as they practice for the real thing when it comes.
Today’s devotion isn’t really about childbirth, it’s about being prepared for the return of Jesus Christ, the end of this present age and the preparation for the age to come, the Kingdom of God. Matthew 24 is known as the “little apocalypse”. Apocalypse is another term for Revelation. In the Bible the book of Revelation is 22 chapters long and goes into a lot of detail about the end of this age and the coming of Jesus. Matthew 24 is a condensed version, kind of a mini-sermon Jesus preached to his followers shortly before he went to the cross. (You will run across parallel or “synoptic” passages when we get to Mark 13 and Luke 21 in just a few days/weeks).
Jesus’ purpose here is to prepare his followers to be ready for times of great tribulation or distress that would come immediately prior to his return. If you’ve ever read or heard a sermon about the apocalypse or the end of the world or Armageddon you probably are aware that Jesus warned that before things get amazingly better- ie. The New Heavens and the New Earth, Christ returning to rule over all the world bringing a final end to all sin and death and setting free the whole earth from the “curse” of death… before things get amazingly better, there will be a time when they become incredibly hard.
A brief study of the history of the Church for the last 2000 years will show that Christians have gone through hard times a lot. In the first 2 centuries the problem was the Roman Empire. Followers of Jesus were often told that they had to renounce their loyalty to Jesus and declare their loyalty to Caesar alone. When they refused, some of them were thrown to the lions or burned at the stake.
Since Christianity was legalized in the Roman Empire it has faced challenges in many parts of the world at different times. In the 17th century Christian missionaries in Japan were killed for their faith. In the 1930’s Christians in Germany who failed to support Hitler faced severe persecution and some, most notably Dietrich Bonhoeffer, were executed for resisting Nazism. Christians in Communist China and the Soviet Union experienced incredible persecution during most of the 20th century. There are places in the Islamic world today where Christians who attempt to proselytize Muslims face the threat of execution.
Every generation of Christians since the first century could look at what was happening in the world and see the potential for the end of the world. Jesus’ own disciples asked him right after his resurrection, before he ascended to God, “Is it NOW, Lord?” (Acts 1:6).
2020 was a really challenging year with Covid, racial division, murder hornets, wildfires and hurricanes. I had a lot of people asking me if I thought the end of the world was coming. Perhaps you’ve wondered that yourselves.
Matthew 24 is a great place to go when you start wondering if this is the end. Like a woman who is going to have a baby, she may have “birth pangs” for a long time before the baby is actually ready to be born. The same is true with the coming Kingdom of God. I think every generation of Christians experience some amount of persecution or “natural” disasters or other tragedies that leave them wondering if the end could be near. Just as Braxton Hicks contractions are God’s way of preparing a woman to give birth by having her muscles practice for the big event, God permits every generation to experience a certain amount of trials and tribulations to help prepare God’s people for the final “great push” that will occur right before Jesus returns.
Jesus himself said that no one knows exactly when he will return. He said that even he doesn’t know. That is something that only God knows. What Jesus does say to his disciples then and to us today is that we need to stay ready, we shouldn’t fall asleep in our faith. He warns that as troubles and persecution increase and as the world becomes a less loving and more violent place that many of his followers would fall away:
“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. (Matthew 24:10-12).
Jesus might come very soon. I can’t predict when. All I can do is make sure that I’m ready whenever he does come. I must make sure that I stay faithful and don’t turn away even if the persecution gets really bad. I think Christians living in the United States are getting ready to face some real persecution in the near future. In fact, I think we already are. There is a lot of pressure to conform to the changing norms of society. Cancel culture will not have any respect for Christianity. Some of the things that the Bible teaches about how we are supposed to live, particularly in areas of morality, sexuality and gender norms are considered anathema by the current progressive climate. As people place more value on becoming “woke” more followers of Jesus, young and old will be persecuted if they fail to change their values. Remember, Caesar doesn’t like to be rejected as God, neither does the devil, and neither do the progressive elites. In the wake of the coming persecution Jesus our Lord tells us to “stand firm.”
-Pastor Jeff Fletcher
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