Wars and Rumors of Wars
One question I have been continuously asked since the bombing of the World Trade Center is, ‘Do you think this is the beginning of the end?’ As we watch in shock the terrible events unfold before our eyes, who can help but wonder if this could be a sign of the times? We have all heard our leaders calling this an act of war and calling for a warring response. Who can tell if this will be a quick retaliation or the spark that could ignite a major war? Some warn that we should not attack because it will cause World War 3, others say we must react or we are opening the door to lawlessness. As we saw the fearful pictures of the two greatest icons of American achievement burning and then collapsing, we also saw comfort and security collapse with it. When America’s false sense of security was shattered, people once content and secure now feel the cracks in the foundation. I see anger and outrage, but also fear and insecurity. How does this affect the Christian? Are we at the end? Is the prophecy in fulfillment, a sign of the times, or just a tragic event?
Let me say first to be very wary of anyone who predicts God’s next move or claims to have a model of the end times. The Bible does tell us what to expect, but we are given signs, not predictions – at least not prediction that we can guess ahead of God. The purpose of prophecy is to show us that God is in control so that we are not afraid. We can see and have confidence in God. His plan does not center around our comfort, but our hope in our eternal reward. In wake of this tragedy, I feel the need to look at how the Bible tells us to view end time events and tragedies. I was in the Army during the Gulf War and I listened to all the false predictions and all the Bible experts mapping out the events to come next. We all know how it ended. All the predictions failed and those who believed the ‘prophets’ were left wondering if the Bible is true. It wasn’t the Bible that failed; it was the misrepresentation of the Bible that failed.
What should have been an opportunity for Christians ended in embarrassment for many Christians. Does the Bible tell us to predict end time events? Does the Bible tell us when these catastrophic events will occur? No. We are given just enough of a glimpse so that we understand what God is doing. Prophesy has a three fold purpose. We will examine these and hopefully gain confidence in the midst of tragedy.
Do Not Fear
Begin by looking at Luke 21:
9 "But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately."
10 Then He said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
11 "And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.
12 "But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake.
13 "But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.
Jesus preludes His revelation by saying, ‘do not be terrified’. If our hope is in God and if we believe that He is in control, we can be confident – even in a world gone mad. When trouble strikes, our foundation is revealed. Those who build their house on sand never have peace in the storm. In our modern culture, even Christians have been persuaded to place their hope in things and circumstances instead of in God. When people lose their sense of false security, they begin to search for something stable. That is our opportunity to point to the hope we have in Jesus Christ. How proudly the enemies of the Cross have challenged Christian values. However, atheism only prevails when the sailing is smooth. You notice that in tragedy, you never see people proclaiming atheism. Instead we hear a plea for prayer and a search for spiritual help. They always search for peace and look to God or someone who knows God. Our job is to point them to the hope found in Jesus Christ. He is the only lasting peace anyone can have. Even in trouble, we have hope, security and peace. That is a powerful testimony in a world whose sense of security has been shattered.
If the Christian is in fear, where can the world turn to find hope? This does not mean that we are indifferent to world events. We feel the pain of the loss; the anger against the attackers; the fear of the tragedy. Fear is an emotion and is normal. However, when the Christian sees fear, we rest our hope in Jesus Christ. We take refuge in knowing that God is in control. Jesus told us beforehand so that when we see these things, we are not swept up in the fear of the world, but we build our lives on the solid foundation. Our rock is Jesus Christ. He said that these things must come to pass but our hope is in Him and our eternal inheritance.
Just a little few verses later, we read in Luke 21,
34 " But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.
35 "For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.
36 "Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man."
The person who is watching for Jesus’ return is also the person who a faithful servant. Watching means living an active life for the Lord. Watching does not mean to sit and wait, but to be actively living in the way He has commanded. Matthew 24 makes this clear. In verse 42 we are commanded again to watch because we do not know when the day of His return will be. Verse 46 says, “Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing”. Jesus made a direct correlation between watching and doing what we have been appointed by God (our master) to do.
Then Jesus makes a parallel between the person who does not watch and the one living a sinful lifestyle at odds with God. This is the same as our passage in Luke 21 where Jesus tells us to take heed not to live sinfully or in the cares of this life. This unwatchful lifestyle is a snare to the whole earth. The remedy? Watch therefore, and pray always. The reward for watching is to be served by our Lord and inherit His kingdom; He will make the faithful servant the ruler over all his goods. The faithless will have their inheritance appointed with the hypocrites and will be judged.
As we can see, Jesus identifies one of the purposes of prophecy is to remind us to watch. World events that terrify the world serve to remind us to be faithful and remember our hope. They focus our attention to actively watch for His return.
Jesus sums up His prophecy of wars, sorrows, and persecutions by saying, “but it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony”. This is the ultimate purpose of all these things. When the world is comfortable and everyone says that there is no need of God, it is hard to share the hope of Jesus Christ. Billy Graham was called by God to preach the gospel to the world. His calling began right after World War 2. As he toured battered Europe, the damaged buildings were still filled with bullet holes and bomb damage. People were seeking hope, peace and answers. The world had just been on the brink of destruction. Nothing was stable and no one was at peace. The result was an unprecedented response to the gospel.
What do we see now? Only a few countries have experienced war in the last 50+ years. Atheism is the standard of Europe. This country is racing down the same road. When prosperity abounds, people forget God. When people have no fear, they also do not fear God. When life is comfortable, God is irrelevant to most people. Jesus said that the coming of troubles will be an occasion to testify. The world will ask ‘why’ and look for hope. We may not be able to answer ‘why’, but we can answer the ‘what’. What is the meaning of life? What is our purpose? We can explain that we live in a world filled with sin and men controlled by sinful human nature. Those who hope in this world will always be disappointed and have foundationless lives.
During times of great trouble, we have the greatest opportunity to evangelize. When people are afraid, insecure and have shattered hope in mankind, we can use this as an opportunity to share the hope of Jesus Christ. The world focuses solely on the human perspective. The world focuses on prosperity and peace. When peace is lost, prosperity is meaningless. When these are shattered, the world focuses in on trouble and fear. Because Jesus Christ is our hope, our focus is never on the trouble, but fulfilling our purpose. We have a calling and God sends us out ’as sheep’s among wolves’ for the purpose of bringing people to Jesus Christ so they can be forgiven just as we have been. Only a Christian whose hope is eternal can have peace when trouble is around them. Only the one who believes in God’s promises can sacrifice comfort in order to fulfill their calling. Glorifying God and having a personal, intimate relationship with God always has been the purpose of our lives. Our calling and command is to bring others into that same hope.
When we see tragedies, instead of becoming fearful as the world is, we should focus on the Word of God which tells us the higher purpose. The world is passing away and all that is in it. Those who hope in the world will be troubled and distressed. We who hope in Christ have peace, and our peace becomes a testimony to draw others to the solid Rock, Jesus Christ.
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