BaptistWay: Questions about the future

• The BaptistWay lesson for Feb. 9 focuses on Luke 21:5-24.

It’s in our nature to worry. I inherited my penchant for it from my grandmother. I remember getting in the car with her and getting halfway to the grocery store only to turn around because she thought she might have left the stove on or the door unlocked. She was a compulsive checker and often poked fun at herself for the way she constantly backtracked to make sure something was not left undone.

I find myself doing the same thing. Thankfully, I have a wife who is a little more organized than I am. Most of the time when I begin to worry about whether or not we locked the door, fed the dog or returned that library book, she assures me it has been taken care of, and I should not fret.

The disciple’s fears

In this week’s lesson, Jesus provides his disciples assurance against worrying, but not the kind most of us seek out or desire. When I worry, I want someone to tell me all my worrying is for nothing. I want to hear what I fear is not going to happen, and I should put it out of my mind.

That’s not what Jesus told his disciples. In fact, his comments initially stirred up their fears. He told them the beautiful temple they loved would one day be torn down. This had to come as a shock, as they likely thought it would play a part in God’s plan to save them through Jesus. When Jesus told them this was not so, they immediately began to ask the same questions we want answered when our fear is at its peak: “When will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” (v. 7).

Fear can lead to deception

Obviously, some fear is a good thing. It’s fear that activates the so-called “fight-or-flight” instinct credited with increases in adrenaline during the times when it is most needed. The kind of fear Jesus is talking about it not “healthy fear.” It is the kind that needlessly dwells on things out of our control.

When Jesus answered the disciples’ question in verse 7, he warned them about being deceived by false saviors and believing social unrest was a definite sign of the end of the world. “Do not be frightened,” he told them. “These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away” (v. 9). Jesus wasn’t telling them what they wanted to hear—that there was nothing to worry about. He was affirming things would happen during their lives that would cause some to worry, but they should not be deceived into doing so.

Fear in the midst of trials

Jesus’ portrayal of the end times goes from general to specific. It’s easy not to worry about general events that may or may not affect us directly. When I hear arguments within our government—the national debt, the healthcare crisis and the state of the economy—it’s easy to shrug off those subjects. Not because they are not big, scary things, but because they do not directly involve me.

Before international quarrels and natural disasters usher in the end of the world, Jesus told his disciples some specific things they would face on account of being his followers: “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name” (v. 12). Jesus does not go on to tell them not to worry about this experience. He admits this experience will even result in death for some of them (v. 16). “But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves,” he instructed them (v. 14). This is a command for them not to worry about their ultimate well-being and an assurance of the life they have in him even if they face death in this world (v. 19).

Facing the future

In verses 20-24, Jesus seems to predict two phases of the future that those who follow him will face: (1) The events of 70 A.D. involving the fall of the temple and (2) those in the distant future, described in more apocalyptic terms. Much effort has been given in appropriating these verses with specific events and time periods. I believe these words are so nuanced it may be impossible for us to understand everything Jesus was communicating to his immediate disciples when he said them. We can know with certainty the big idea he wanted to communicate was fear should not inhibit them from facing anything.

Ultimately, we cannot control what we fear. But we can control the way we allow fear to affect us. In spite of the way they might have felt, the disciples received instructions to live out their futures in faithfulness. That is all any of us can do, trusting the life we have in Christ is greater than what we fear.

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