Birth pains. It’s all about the birth pains.
As you will hear in this PODCAST, as we enumerate the final three of the six “signs of the times,” both Paul and Jesus made it crystal-clear that we are to think of these signs in terms of birth pains.
Paul, who borrowed this most-meaningful metaphor from Jesus, used it most-appropriately when he in Romans 8 declared, “For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”
It would not surprise me one bit to hear that some of you — Or should I say some of us? — have been groaning a little more than usual this past week.
It is all about the birth pains, that increase dramatically in frequency and in intensity as the moment of birth approaches. This troubled planet of ours is undeniably in the later stages of its own labor pains, as it waits in breathless anticipation as the moment of Jesus’ return approaches.
So said Paul.
So said Jesus. Here in Matthew 24:8, spoken in the Olivet Discourse, on the Tuesday afternoon of His final week, in reference to these “signs of the times.” Jesus said, “All these are the beginning of birth pains.”
That is precisely where we are today. Groaning, watching, and waiting for the climax of human history as we know it finally and mercifully to dawn upon us.
In Luke’s abbreviated account of the Olivet Discourse, Jesus said in reference to these same “signs of the times,” “When these things (these birth pains) begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Stand up; and lift up. Those are phrases that speak of victory, not defeat!
We don’t sit down in defeat; we stand up in victory!
We don’t hang our heads in dismal distress; we lift up our heads in victorious anticipation.
We are not defeated. Not by a long shot. We are encouraged.
These “signs of the times,” these birth pains, have indeed begun to take place. Our redemption is indeed drawing nearer, every single day!
Yes, these six “signs of the times” have always characterized our world. Yet, there is no denying the acceleration of their frequency and intensity.
Let me briefly remind you of the first three, and then we’ll discuss in some detail the final three. All with a view to standing up and lifting up our heads, not in defeat but in glorious victory.
The first three include:
- There will be a lot of false teachers rising in popularity across the planet, some even claiming to be Jesus Christ.
- There will be wars and rumors of wars at a frequency and intensity that the world has never known.
- There will be famine, earthquakes and other natural disasters wreaking havoc all around the world as never before.
So, those are the first three signs that Jesus prophesied about and we discussed last week. Here are the next three…
“Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. (Matthew 24:9)
Now, upon reading this, I can think of two things you may be tempted to think. The first is, “I don’t see any increases in frequency or intensity of this kind of persecution. After all, churches meet all around the world in complete freedom.”
But, remember, the world is much bigger than the United States of America.
The other thought that may come to mind is, “There has always been religious persecution in the world. Just read the Book of Acts.” While this is true, Jesus is talking about a birth-pain-like increase in frequency and intensity that the world has never known. Therefore, what is coming will be far worse in frequency and intensity than what is described in the Book of Acts.
I’m not talking about the annual “atrocities” that occur every December when places like Target or Macy’s decides to use the words “Holiday Sale” instead of acknowledging Christmas. The persecution that Jesus describes in Matthew 24:9 is infinitely worse than Starbucks changing the design of their winter coffee cups.
You see, the truth is that Christians in the USA have been largely – almost entirely – immune to the types of persecution that Jesus is talking about. On one hand, we ought to be incredibly thankful that we can meet, fellowship, pray, preach, and worship without any fear of arrest or death. The same cannot be said in other parts of the world today. On the other hand, these several centuries of religious freedom has accumulated into the development of a very lethargic and lazy American Church. Sadly, in some ways, we in America do not “need” God in order to survive, as our brothers and sisters in places like Syria and Iraq do.
You see, according to published studies, beheadings and imprisonments made the year 2015 the worst year for Christian persecution ever. EVER.
In Iraq alone, the reported amount of Christians in the entire nation has shrunk to less than 270,000. This is but a fraction of the 1.5 million Christians that lived there just three years ago. In North Korea, of the nation’s 300,000 reported Christians, nearly 70,000 of them are imprisoned in North Korea’s notoriously brutal labor camps. Those who are not jailed are forced to hide their faith, even to members of their extended families.
“Islamic extremism and authoritarian governments combined to make last year the worst in modern history for Christians around the world. The trend spiked upward in the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia with thousands of Christian killed or imprisoned and even more chased from their homes. Islamic extremism continues to be the primary driving force behind the expansion of persecution…
It is no longer just a Christian problem, but a global problem.” (OpenDoorsUSA.org)
These two countries are not alone. Atrocities lashed out on Christian communities are widespread in India, Columbia, Cuba, and many other nations as well. But, not here in the good ol’ USA. We Christians here are cozy comfortable. But are we too comfortable? Do we no longer hold our religious freedoms as sacred? My fear is we will lose what we take for granted.
The United Nations put it this way, in regards to Christian persecution around the world:
“Never before have so many Christians been on the move. A record 60 million Christians have been displace worldwide.”
And, believe it or not, the pace and level of intensity of this global persecution of Christ followers will indeed grow as we draw nearer to Christ’s Second Coming.
Jesus said this about the fifth sign:
And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other…Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. (Matthew 24:10, 12)
Now, Jesus said these words around the year 33AD. By the time Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, around 24 years had passed. By that time, Paul described what was going on within the Roman Empire as such:
So God said, in effect, “If that’s what you want, that’s what you get.” It wasn’t long before they were living in a pigpen, smeared with filth, filthy inside and out. And all this because they traded the true God for a fake god, and worshiped the god they made instead of the God who made them—the God we bless, the God who blesses us. Oh, yes!
Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn’t know how to be human either—women didn’t know how to be women, men didn’t know how to be men. Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men—all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it—emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches.
Since they didn’t bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-bashers. Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags! They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. They ditch their parents when they get in the way. Stupid, slimy, cruel, cold-blooded. And it’s not as if they don’t know better. They know perfectly well they’re spitting in God’s face. And they don’t care—worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best! (Romans 1:24-32 , The Message)
Back then, it was exactly the way it is now. However, today the frequency and intensity and worldwide spread of these atrocities, heresy and rampant evil have increased so much more… just like birth pains.
Just as Jesus promised.
On a more happy note, the sixth Sign of the Times will look like this, according to Jesus:
But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:13-14)
Now, I believe that we live in the first time of human history where, technologically, this part of Jesus’ prophesy can be fulfilled – and indeed is. I am constantly amazed how nearly anyone on the globe can click a mouse and receive sound Biblical teaching in a fraction of a second. Even in the far reaches of the Arctic, the Amazon, and Saharan Africa.
Jesus encouraged us with these words,
“When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28)
So, as we see these events happening before our eyes, and Christ’s Second Coming drawing nearer by the day, do not hide in fear or hang your heads in defeat. Instead, obey Jesus and stand up. Lift up your heads in glorious victory!
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