It may be an overstatement on my part, but it seems to me that we are living through a particularly unsettling period of history. Both at home and abroad, things seem to be unhinging at a frightening rate. Whether it is being reported as such or not, there is war in the Ukraine. In the Middle East and in parts of Africa the persecution of Christians has escalated to new heights (at least relative to recent history) – and the world seems not to notice. There are increasingly few unifying voices in our own country. The sovereignty of nations is being both violated by aggressors and questioned by the international community. Overall one gets the sense that there is a splintering and weakening effect throughout society.
Thoughts like this remind me of a statement made by a famous Christian: “Good God, for what sort of times hast thou kept me, that I should endure these things?” This quote is clearly not from a current theologian – it has an obvious ring of antiquity about it. But how old is it? It is in fact a quote of a Christian man named Polycarp – who was himself a disciple of John the beloved disciple of Jesus Christ.
Consider what this means. The very first generation of Christians was at times bewildered and distressed by the times in which they lived. As Ecclesiastes teaches us, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Problems, and dire ones at that, will certainly plague the world and the nations that dwell in it until the return of Christ. As Jesus has taught us, “Each day has trouble enough of its own.” (Matthew 6:34).
But what should we do? Should we hunker down and simply try to survive times such as these? I would say no. The Lord calls us to be active and conduct ourselves as his emissaries to a fallen world. And this calls for hope on our part. One can hardly be an emissary if one has no hope or confidence in that which one represents! But it is precisely at the level of hope that we must be careful. Throughout the Old Testament, particularly evident in the Psalms and the Prophets, God’s people are warned to resist the temptation to put their hope in “horses and the legs of men.” Human institutions, human effort, worldy power… these things are false hopes that will always disappoint. Today we see hope being placed in nations – “America is the world’s last great hope;” or in people – “If only so-and-so would be elected.” Both of these hopes, however carefully you qualify them, are nothing less than idolatry. It is your place Christian to be overwhelmingly concerned with the true “desire of all nations” (Haggai 2:7; and the “hope of all the ends of the earth, and of the farthest seas.” (Psalm 5:5).
This month I would like to challenge you to read through the gospel of John and write out in a journal every statement that describes the relationship of Jesus to the world. After you have completed your list, write down all things that Jesus says he both ‘is’ and ‘does’ for the world and ask the following three questions: (1) Can anyone or anything else do or be these things for the world? (things like democracy, science, music, or your favorite politician or painter, or even America!). (2) In what way(s) is Jesus light, life, hope… of and for the world. And (3) How does Jesus want me to be his ambassador and connect the hope he brings to the hurts in the world that I can address. And then (and here is the real challenge) get together with one another and discuss!