Episode 1. The Dark Cloud
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Whenever we think life is going along just fine, well … there always seems to be a dark cloud somewhere on the horizon, and as much as we might try to ignore it, it seems to get bigger and bigger …
Whenever we think that life is going along just fine, well … there always seems to be a dark cloud somewhere on the horizon, and as much as we might try to ignore it, it seems to get bigger and bigger until sometimes, it can overwhelm our lives. Have you ever noticed that?
There are things happening in this world, terrible things that we never thought that we would see in our lifetimes – wars, terrorism, Christians being beheaded by Muslim extremists, all sorts of things. And as we watch this stuff on the news each night, it starts to seep into our pores; it becomes part of us. And whether we realise it or not, a sense of foreboding; a fear takes hold of our hearts and our minds.
Of course this is nothing new. I think back to the 9th of September 2001. Why is that an important date? Well, it’s exactly two days before the coordinated terrorist attacks of 9/11. But as an Australian, at least September 9th 2001 is significant to me for another reason. It’s the day that this young kid from Oz, Lleyton Hewitt, won the US Open by defeating the great Pete Sampras in just three sets.
So you can imagine that we Australians had a great old celebration over the next few days. I remember waking up just two days later and switching on the morning news on the TV and being stunned by what I saw. Those planes flying into the World Trade Centre in New York, the towers collapsing, the sheer terror of what was occurring in front of my eyes.
From the joy and elation of this young Aussie kid winning a major Grand Slam tournament against an unassailable opponent to this, this incredible terror. It’s something that changed the psyche of America as a nation. It’s changed the course of history. It affected the psyche, I think, of just about every person on the planet.
Looking back on it all after these years, I think that the biggest thing that I should be surprised about is that we were at all surprised that it happened. As though something like this had never happened before, as though something like this would never happen again.
I remember growing up. I’m part of the post war baby boomer generation that reflected the optimism of peace after the cessation of hostilities in Europe and the Pacific. My whole generation is pretty much a bunch of optimists because of the context that we were born into. And yet the whole time I was growing up the threat of nuclear annihilation hung over the world.
The very thing that had ended the war in the Pacific, nuclear holocaust, threatened to destroy the world. For thirteen days in 1962, the whole world held its breath during the Cuban missile crisis expecting the worse and hoping for the best.
So on the one hand, my generation grew up in this incredible glow of optimism. And yet this dark cloud hung over our generation. But turn back the clock a little further to generations that came before just in the twentieth century. World War 1, the war to end all wars, sixteen million dead, twenty million wounded.
The Great Depression of the 1930’s that lasted in many places for well over a decade. No jobs, people starving in hitherto affluent countries. And as if that weren’t’ all enough in 1939 World War 2 kicked off. In just under six years, sixty million people were killed in the deadliest conflict in human history. That was two point five percent of the world’s population.
Then peace. But that threat of the Cold War consuming the world, today, it’s global terrorism, the rise of religious extremism. In fact, right now there are around forty-two armed conflicts being fought around the globe and that’s been a pretty constant figure for over the last half century.
Some make the news, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, terrible atrocities. But others, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and many others see hundreds of people dying every day. And yet it seems the darker the skin is of those who are dying the less interested the western media is in reporting their deaths.
And that’s just a snapshot of what’s going on in the world today. And next month, next year perhaps the list of war zones will change slightly but they won’t be any fewer. The horror and the pure evil won’t be any less. I’ll say it again, we are seeing things happening in this world that we never thought that we would see in our lifetimes and yet this is exactly what the Bible tells us would happen. This is exactly what Jesus tells us will happen, Matthew chapter 24, verses 1 to 14.
As Jesus came out of the Temple and was going away his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the Temple. Then he asked them, ‘You see all these do you not? Truly I tell you not one stone will be left here upon another, all will be thrown down.’ When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives the disciples came to him privately saying, ‘Tell us when this will be and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?’
Jesus answered them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray for many will come in my name saying ‘I am the messiah’ and they will lead many astray and you’ll hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not alarmed for this must take place but the end is not yet for nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places, all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.’
‘Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death and you’ll be hated by all nations because of my name then many will fall away and they will betray one another and hate one another and many false prophets will arise and lead many astray and because of the increase in lawlessness the love of many will grow cold but the one who endures to the end will be saved and this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come.’ (Matthew 24: 1-14)
Some things seemed so certain to these people that He was speaking to. The Temple in Jerusalem, Gods own house, surely that would stand forever, surely. Yet Jesus predicted its destruction, which is exactly what happened less than forty years later in AD 70.
So the disciples in private asked Him, ‘Hey Lord, so when is it going to happen and what will be the signs of your coming?’ What answers do you think they were expecting? What signs were they expecting? Angels with trumpets shouting, ‘Glory, glory, hallelujah’? Well why not? That’s how Jesus first coming was announced to those shepherds on some gently sloping hillside outside Bethlehem on that starry, starry night just three decades or so before.
But instead of that Jesus spoke of wars and rumours of wars. He spoke of believers being handed over to be tortured. He spoke of people falling away from their faith, of lawlessness and false prophets of the love of many of those who call themselves after His name, falling away.
And people let me tell you that’s exactly what we see happening before our very eyes today. Why are we so surprised? Why do we act as though this shouldn’t happen? Why do we tremble in our boots? These are the signs of the coming of the end of this age. This is exactly what Jesus said would happen.
And His call to us, His people, His Church is to persevere, is to not give up, is to not let our love grow cold, to hang in there and be His people until the end.
As I look around the Church today, I see in many places that the love of God’s people has grown cold. I see that we’ve become comfortable in our safe little soft pews (in the west in particular). We worry about our petty little first world problems while our brothers and sisters in Iraq are being beheaded. We, the western Church in particular, spend money on ourselves while our brothers and sisters around the world are in such desperate need. And in our personal lives we allow doom and gloom and foreboding and fear to immobilise us.
Well enough is enough. I believe that God is asking us, His people today, ‘Do you love me? Do you really love me’?
Well, if you do then get out there and feed my sheep – Church. It is time for us to rise up in Jesus name. It is time for the Lion of Judah to roar.