Today: Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Easter 5: Birth pangs    (3/17/2013 )

With my selective male brain, I hadn’t taken on board what having our first child would mean for my wife Sandra. I mean, how hard could it be? Place order; delivery in 9 months. Job done.

Between input from parents, friends and the doctor’s briefing, we knew — more or less — what to expect and when. Morning sickness, weight gain (or loss, in my case), cravings, more frequent visits to the loo, less mobility, clothes don’t fit,  learning to breathe(?)… and finally there might be ‘some discomfort’  at the point of delivery. Although each couple has to face it for themselves, it’s much less worrying if you know beforehand what’s likely to happen.

One of the great biblical images for God’s future is the approaching birth of a baby. It is a time of great hope, and new possibility, but also (especially in ancient times before modern medicine) a time of danger and anxiety.

In this Easter series we’ve arrived at Matthew chapter 24, where, in response to their questions about his future return (verses 1 & 2), Jesus begins to share with his disciples more of his prophetic insight into the ‘birth pangs’ of the age which was about to be ushered in  –  the new people,  his holy ones (the church), that God intends to bring to birth.  This was so that the disciples wouldn’t be easily deceived, taken by surprise or alarmed by what was coming. There were four main themes:

Don’t be afraid
There will (continue to be) wars and rumours of wars, famines, earthquakes, etc — but don’t be alarmed by them. It doesn’t mean the end of the age yet. God is working to his own timetable.

Expect persecution for being believers
Persecution by the religious authorities began almost immediately for believers, notably at  the hand of Saul (who later became the apostle Paul after he met with the resurrected Jesus). It was continued by consecutive Roman emperors over the next 3 centuries, and it still goes on in many parts of the world today. Being a Christian is not a soft option, and never has been.

The Jerusalem temple will be no more
This iconic temple was destroyed after the Jewish uprising was bloodily put down by the Romans in AD 70, when they ransacked the holy place and pulled down the walls of the temple. It was a crushing blow for the people, but also a symbol of good news for those first believers that Jesus himself replaces the temple as the way to God. 

Jesus will return 
There have been a number of religious sects in modern times prophesying the end of the world on a specific date. But Christians don’t need to be anxious about them! Jesus has already told us that no one knows that date except God the Father. And he has warned us there will be ‘false Christs’, whose claims will deceive even some Christians. But if you’ve read Matthew chapter 24, there is no room for doubt. His coming will be highly visible, loud, and ‘with great glory’. 

By the way: yes, there were birth pangs for my wife, but the joy of the wonderful baby (now a mother herself), was worth the effort!

Pray: Lord, help me to understand how the difficulties I (and others) experience are like birth pangs that will deliver some of the blessings you have planned for us.

Think about: What can you take away from Jesus’ teaching in this passage? What does it mean for you, or someone you might share it with?

Challenge: Read (at one sitting!) Matthew 23:39 to 24:51 for the whole sweep of Jesus’ teaching on this.

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