The Tribulation of the Cross, Part 2

When we read Matthew 24:13 – “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” – what do we think of?  I’m currently reading a book about the life of Queen Elizabeth I of England that focuses on her life before becoming Queen, and there is a lot that reminds me of Matthew 24:9-10, which says, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.  And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.”  Elizabeth’s older sister Mary, a Catholic, pursued often violent methods to purge the country of Protestantism[1], as chronicled in the sensational book, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs[2], which soon became the 2nd most-read book in England after the Bible.  John Foxe listed story after story of Protestants being tortured, burned alive, and persecuted in other extreme ways that sometimes are what we think of reading Matthew 24:13.

But there is more to the context than that.  Matthew 24:11-12 say, “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.  And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”  This idea of love growing cold is immediately before “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”  In a martyrdom scenario, enduring is not the same as living, so enduring means something other than staying alive.  So, what does a Christian endure in order to be saved?

When Jesus was on the cross and said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” in Luke 23:34 I believe He was modeling this endurance.  On the cross, the lawlessness of the world had increased to the point where God Himself was abandoned and killed by a populist mob, fueled by a conspiracy of religious and political leaders.  All of Christ’s followers were scattered like sheep without a shepherd, yet He continued to love.  Yet, instead of calling upon an army of angels and freeing Himself from the cross, He forgave.

Matthew quotes Jesus as saying that while lawlessness is increasing, “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.”  Jesus said in Matthew 24:6 that “you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.”  In opposition to this, false prophets will tell us to be alarmed and they will tell us that there is so much lawlessness that we need to do something other than love God and love our neighbor.  Some of these prophets will claim to be the Christ (Matthew 24:5), but they will insist on a path other than that of the cross.  Perhaps using a Facebook post fed through a heartless algorithm, they will say “The time is coming when good people will have to do bad things to very bad people,” even though Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  (Matthew 5:44)

Repeating yesterday’s post, when I’m struggling to face the world as I see it, I ask about 3:16, “Exactly which world did Jesus love enough to die for?”  The answer is this one.  Not just the part of it I get along with or that I’d pick to be in my Facebook feed if I had full control.  Sometimes bearing our cross is just being willing to love those Christ loved, even when we don’t want to, and even when they hate us as they hated Him.

Praise God that Christ loved me, because I too easily find people I’d really prefer to stay away from, but if Christ had taken that approach, maybe He would have never come down to earth to die for me.

Father, forgive us, for we do not know what we do.  We praise You that You endured to the end for our sake.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:32


[1] At other times and places, Protestants have persecuted Catholics, or each group has fought among themselves.  This is only one example among (sadly) many.
[2] I’m planning a history post for next March 20, the first publication date of this book in 1563.

The Tribulation of the Cross, Part 1

Do you ever get so frustrated with the world that you just want to check out?  I certainly do.  For example, as a blogger who posts to both Facebook and on WordPress, for me it is a lot easier to keep up with WordPress, since I can choose to see only what I want to see.  Facebook, on the other hand, exists to sell advertising and sometimes the best advertising is the kind that sparks emotion – even (or especially) bad emotions.

While Facebook is great for keeping up with friends and family, it recently started adding a ton of posts with statements like “The time is coming when good people will have to do bad things to very bad people,” along with other sarcastic, angry, and bitter political posts.  After a few days they must have tweaked their method again, and most of these went away.  Like many, I like to have my comfortable space where I’m in control, and I didn’t want to be on Facebook while knowing they were trying (and, sadly, succeeding) at manipulating my emotions.  I started feeling sarcastic, angry, and bitter, which was by their design.  Sometimes I ask myself why I am even there?

Some surprising advice comes in Philippians 2:6-8, where Paul writes about Jesus that, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  In times when I want to check out from the uncomfortable parts of living in this world, these verses remind me that Jesus, as God, might have taken an attitude of preferring to stay in a comfortable space where He could be in control, but instead He jumped into the mess that is this world we see every day to show the world what love is.

Another verse that calls this to mind is the familiar John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

When I’m struggling to face the world as I see it, I ask about 3:16, “Exactly which world did Jesus love enough to die for?”  The answer is this one.  The world He died for is the one where sex, anger, bitter tribalism, and political partisanship sells.  The one with a lot of sarcastic, angry, and bitter people.  The one with a lot of people who are more like us than we’d usually like to admit.  The one where it’s easy for our love to grow cold if we focus on the problems, and not on the cross, where God took the punishment for all of it.

To be continued tomorrow

Christianity is Not in Decline. Ever.

The tomb is empty. Photo by Pisit Heng on Unsplash

Too often I start reading something thinking it will be encouraging, but find it filled with phrases like “post-Christian world,” or “Christianity’s decline.”  I just read that apparently, I’m “living in the ruins of Christendom.”  However, because Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” our faith and hope are not based on any ruin or decline we see in the communities and world around us.  Other things may end up in ruins or in decline, but Christianity does not.  It was not in decline on Good Friday and it is not in decline now.

In a recent post about the massive expansion of Christianity under Communist China, I wrote: “As Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 – ‘And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’  This rock is the gospel of the kingdom of God, and not even a brutal regime like that of Chairman Mao could prevail against it.”

The best of the kingdom of God is always in the future, never in the past, which brings me to the Rewind Wednesday part of today’s post, from last November:

“Today, many will hear the good news of the kingdom of Jesus, and some may hear and be saved!  Also today, none will be snatched out of His hand! (John 10:28)

True progress will be made today and every day.”

Three Blessings to Count Today

Photo by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash

Some say that grace stands for God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense, but what are these riches?  David says at the end of Psalm 144 that:

Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall!
            Blessed are the people whose God is the LORD!”

The desire of the Lord is to bless His people, in part in this world, and fully in the next.  The verse above follows verses 12-14, which list three specific blessings: family, prosperity, and safety:

May our sons in their youth
            be like plants full grown,
our daughters like corner pillars
            cut for the structure of a palace;
may our granaries be full,
            providing all kinds of produce;
may our sheep bring forth thousands
            and ten thousands in our fields;
may our cattle be heavy with young,
            suffering no mishap or failure in bearing;
may there be no cry of distress in our streets!”

Knowing God is no immediate guarantee of these things, but we may ask Him for them, and know that when we do receive them, they come from Him.  He has paid for our riches and our blessings in full on the cross, so that in Paradise we will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5), be eternally His family (Ephesians 1:5), and our pain and tears will be wiped away forever (Revelation 21:4).

Today, count these blessings, praise God for them, and pray that His people will hope in His provision forever!

Redeeming the Time

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca said that “People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”  Unlike other resources, time cannot be replaced.  If I waste a dollar of my income, another dollar can be earned to replace it.  If I waste a minute, it’s gone forever.

Psalm 101, penned by David, contemplates what is worthy of our time.  Verses 1-4 say:

I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
            to you, O LORD, I will make music.
I will ponder the way that is blameless.
            Oh when will you come to me?
I will walk with integrity of heart
            within my house;
I will not set before my eyes
            anything that is worthless.
I hate the work of those who fall away;
            it shall not cling to me.
A perverse heart shall be far from me;
            I will know nothing of evil.

In our modern, media- and current event-focused culture, the statement “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless” may be the most challenging.  Reading this verse recently, I had to ask myself whether the reason I look at worthless things is that I don’t think they are worthless?  If to “confess” means to say the same thing about something that God does, I have a lot to learn about what is valuable and worthy of attention.

Today, let us learn to love what God loves and hate what He hates.  Let us confess what really matters, and “sing of steadfast love and justice.”  Let us also “ponder the way that is blameless” that we may “know nothing of evil.

There’s no time to waste.