A path that appears smooth and welcoming may disguise a terrible danger.
told by Deborah
When some of the disciples were admiring how beautifully the temple was decorated with glittering gems and elegant offerings dedicated to God, Jesus said, “One day all this will be destroyed: the walls shattered, the stones scattered.”
“When? How soon?” the disciples looked at each other anxiously, “Will there be a sign so we’ll know it’s going to happen?”
He said, “Calm down. Be careful that you are not misled or deceived — because a lot of people will appear to claim My authority and say that they speak for Me, telling you, ‘I’m the one!’ and ‘The end is near!’ Don’t believe them.
“When you hear of wars and turmoil and unrest, don’t panic. These things will happen, and the end will come — but not immediately.”
He went on, “Sects and divisions will rise up against one another, and nations will go to war; there will be earthquakes, famines and plagues will break out; and dreadful omens will appear, and terrible signs in the heavens.
“But before that happens, they will arrest you and persecute you; you will be condemned by juries and reviled in the court of public opinion because of Me.
“This will give you an opportunity to testify.
“Decide right now that you will not prepare your defense in advance. At the time I will give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.
“You will be betrayed even by parents and siblings, by friends and neighbors; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated and reviled for My name’s sake.
“But not a hair of your head will perish.
“By holding on, you will gain your souls.”
When Jesus informs His disciples that the magnificent, massive, and seemingly-indestructible Jerusalem temple will be reduced to rubble, they are alarmed: they ask for a sign, an omen, an early warning, so that they may escape the wrath to come — or at least prepare themselves. But the Lord preaches calm: fearlessness, an acceptance, perhaps, of the reality of disasters and tragedies as part of human life.
He then warns them of coming persecution and betrayal, scorn and condemnation for those who believe in Him. Christians will be challenged to maintain their faith in the Gospel — even, possibly, to die for it — in the midst of a hostile, hateful world. Friends and neighbors, family members — mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, those once-loved and trusted, will rise up against them. Animosity and anger, division and distrust will be the order of the day.
Yet Jesus goes on to say that this will not be a tragedy, not a horror to be avoided, but an opportunity. The worst of times can be the best of times for those who love the Lord.
Confronted by slurs and scorn and false accusations, they can really show their stuff. With courage and compassion, commitment and grace, they will speak peace and proclaim their allegiance to Jesus the Christ; they will be kind, merciful, generous. Others will see and be inspired, and the Gospel joy will abound.
And so it was.
Of course that was then. And this is now.
While it is true that our sisters and brothers in other lands face persecution and death, we Christians in western nations have it easy. People may snipe and sneer and hold unfair and unkind opinions, but those are bearable; we complain about being misunderstood, but it doesn’t affect how we practice our religion.
Which may be a bad thing.
We’re rarely challenged or inspired. We’ve grown comfortable, confident, secure in our faith; we take our righteousness for granted, our moral authority as a given, our failings and faults as non-existent. With signs and banners and bumper stickers, we inform passing strangers of how nobly we live our lives.
Is it any wonder that no one is persuaded — ourselves included?
Hearts that once were “strangely warmed” with fires of holy passion have grown lukewarm; lacking inspiration, seeking causes rather than inflamed with divine purpose. We are more zealous for party politics than for the Word of the Lord.
We are mistaken if we think our faith is safe from harm because we are free from overt persecution. A false sense of security has caused us to forget what it means to live as a Gospel people. We’ve succumbed to the worldly definition of “success” and fallen victim to self-certainty. Anxious to fit in and be approved-of, we have been enticed into choosing “a side,” to judging and condemning others, and claiming infallibility.
We have forgotten Whose we are.
We’ve forgotten how to love as Christ taught us.
We’ve been devoured by the roaring lion of cultural conformity.
If we recognized the genuine dangers to our faith, if we wisely and lovingly responded to the subtle ways in which we are tempted, how different our lives — and our world — would be! What would we say, what would we do — if we weren’t constantly driven by fears and threats and demands for allegiance? Imagine if we heeded Christ’s teachings, and trusted in His wisdom, rather than being pulled and tossed by voices that cry out, “The end is near!” and which seek to convince us, “I’m the one!”
How shall we live in a society that stifles our faith under the cover of ersatz acceptance? How can we be truthful witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ — amid demands for conformity, and insistence that we pledge our loyalty to cult or party, lest we be judged, found wanting, and condemned?
The answer is right before us. We know what we are to do. It is the old, familiar Message that remains ever-new.
We are to live lives dedicated to love and compassion. We are to speak peace, give generously, and act justly. We are to be genuine Christ-followers in all we are; in what we say and do and hope for and believe.
Despite pressures and demands, judgments and condemnations, we are to be living witnesses to the Way of the Lord.
The worst of times — the harshest times — can be the best of times for those who love the Lord. We have been handed an astonishing opportunity to show our stuff.
Jesus told the disciples to remain calm and courageous, no matter what madness and mayhem might arise. Panic is a wild and unreasoning response, a primal fear that confuses, deludes, and misleads us. In all things we are to trust in the promises of the Lord — not in temporal policies; to believe that all shall be well, regardless. As He says in this passage, “They may even put you to death, but not a hair of your head will be harmed.” We are to have faith that all shall be well, and all is well.
No one said it is easy. But it is supremely important.
Those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. ~ Isaiah 40:31
The time to proclaim the divine Truth is now — not in what we say, but in how we live. Beginning today, let us embrace the opportunity to live with Christlike compassion, mercy, charity, and profound acceptance of and care for one another.
May the gracious Spirit of peace and gentle joys inspire and encourage us along our way.
Christ’s grace and healing love be with you,
Jesus said, “I am giving you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you are to love one another. This is how you will be known as My disciples, by your love for one another.”
~ John 13:34-35