The news can make you grow numb. The news tells us what is going on, but it fails to tell us, “So what?” The Word of God gives us the answers for, “So what?” We may respond to the events on the news with an activist passion, declaring, “Let’s do something about this problem now!” However, that passion can quickly run cold, and we can then respond with a sense of resignation, “There is nothing we can do about this anyways.” But before we move to action or resignation, we need perspective from God’s Word. Matthew 24:1–14 provides two important perspectives on disasters like we have seen in Japan.
First, disasters are birth pangs for a new world. Jesus prophecies the coming destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (Matt 24:1–2), and his disciples come to him privately, asking, “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (24:3). In their minds, the the destruction of the Jerusalem temple is inextricably linked with the close of the age. So Jesus gives them perspective about how catastrophes in history relate to the end of the age.
Jesus is concerned that they would not be led astray. He speaks of wars, famines and earthquakes in various places (24:6–7). In the first century, the Jews revolted violently against the Roman government in 66 AD until they were crushed in 70 AD. Earthquakes were prevalent as well. Today of course we have a war in Afghanistan, and we are being drawn into another conflict in Libya as we speak. We have also seen the fifth largest earthquake in history off the coast of Japan. While our natural reaction is panic, Jesus says, “See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet” (24:6).
So then why must these things take place? Verse 8 tells us, “All these are the beginning of the birth pains.” Birth pains show us birth is imminent. When earthquakes and wars come, these are birth pains of something new. If contractions give birth to a baby, earthquakes and wars are give birth to a new creation (Rom 8:19–22). God is already in the process of making a new heavens and a new earth (Rev 21:5). As we read the news about wars and earthquakes, these are visual and concrete reminders that God is birthing something new. The most remarkable thing about the new creation is not the composition of its streets and gates, but the ubiquitous presence of the Lord (Rev 21:22). The glory of the Lord covers the earth like waters cover the face of the sea.
Natural disasters take place in order to birth a greater revelation of Jesus Christ. Matthew 24:6 says, “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars, for this must take place.” Why must these things take place? This phrase “must take place” is found again in Rev 1:1: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place” (cf. Rev 4:1; 22:6). It actually is taken from the Greek translation of Dan 2:28, to show the events that must take place. However these events must take place because they serve to bring about a greater revelation of Jesus Christ. The book of Revelation is not fundamentally about how the world will end, but how Jesus Christ is sovereign over all of creation even when things seems disastrous. Tragic, even disastrous, events must take place because they reveal more and more of the greatness and glory of Jesus Christ on the earth.
When birth pains begin, the goal is not to get back to a state of peace and quiet again. When birth pains begin, your life is radically changed – it will never be the same. Similarly when we see wars and earthquakes as birth pains, we realize that the goal is not to go back to a state of peace and quiet. The goal is to see a greater revelation of Jesus Christ be birthed. When calamity strikes our lives, our focus should not be on getting life to the way to a state of peace and quiet. Our goal should see how God is birthing something new, a greater revelation of Jesus Christ in us.
As we think about Japan, the purpose is not that everything would go back to normal. A greater revelation of Jesus Christ is being birthed. This is a historic moment in Japan, and we must rise up and pray. The church has the resources on the ground to do express the love of Christ. While relief agencies are bring supplies to Japan, the church has the infrastructure and relationships to distribute that aid to people effectively. We must pray for and support the church in Japan in their hour of opportunity. Crash Japan (www.crashjapan.com) is doing a wonderful job in this regard. Christians are going into the camps of northern Japan and handing out Bibles. My old wrestling coach, Cal Cummings, is helping to mobilize the church in Sendai. Another friend, Joey Millard, is working with many of his church friends to deliver goods from Tokyo to the northern areas. Let us pray for them and support them. God is birthing a greater revelation of Jesus Christ through the church.
However this is not only about Japan. In our lives our well, when unforeseen problems turn our lives upside down, we must remember the One who is in control. We see disaster as birth pains for a greater revelation of Jesus Christ.
We need to move on to Matt 24:9–13 to see how hardship purifies the church for powerful witness. But I will leave those reflections for another day.