The birth of a baby is both a blessing and an ordeal. Every expectant couple knows how nerve-racking, even perilous, at the same time incredibly joyful and fulfilling childbirth can be. All the couple can do is take care, be patient, and try not to be too alarmed at the strange things that are happening. For that reason one of the most useful biblical images for the unfolding of God’s future is the travail of childbirth. It’s a future that will involve both tribulation and jubilation. A future wrapped-up in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
With his kingdom-clinching crucifixion and the triumph of grace only days away, Jesus broached the subject of the end of the world as we know it. The disciples worked up the nerve to question him about it. “When will it happen? What events will signal this end?” A convulsive finish would precede God’s new beginning.
Jesus reels off a list signs of the end he called “birth pangs” – wars, revolutions, famines and earthquakes… terrible events. But he tells them not to go to pieces. These are just the start of a mysterious birth process. Bewildering, painful, frightening, yes, but it’s just the mysterious way God does business. He tells them to hold on and trust because, like the couple in the throes of labor, they know that when it’s all said and done, they will rejoice. A new world will be born!
“So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!” (Luke 21:28)
Today anxiety is on the rise. In 2015 the fear level among American’s spiked dramatically! And for good reason, the world has gone crazy. More Americans feel unsafe right now than after 9-11. And for the first time in my lifetime most Americans have little confidence in the government’s ability to do anything about it. We’re living in a state of homeland insecurity. As followers of Jesus what should our response be?
Should we join with the crowd and give in to fear and despair? Should we bury our heads in the sand and pretend things are fine? Should we let our response be decided by politicians, economists, the talking heads, our logic or feelings? Or maybe we should listen to Jesus and treat these events like the birth pangs of the mystery of the kingdom – A signal that something wonderful is on its way?
In these very dangerous and confusing times, we’re only called to be faithful and trust; to not be alarmed but to live through trouble times in anticipation, like the expectant couple. Taking care, being patient, and trying not to be too alarmed at the difficult and strange things that are happening.
If we listen to Jesus these events are labor pains and as the birth of new creation approaches, expect the contractions increase in frequency and intensity. Yes, things will get worse and we’ll experience the wreckage of a world that’s passing away. We’re not told how long the travail will last – one year, five, fifty, five hundred? But our calling is to hold on to Jesus himself, continue to trust him and pray, believing that the one who was resurrected by God in the first century will one day resurrect the world!
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Revelation 21:1-2)