The US is still reeling from the news of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the deadliest such assault in modern American history, where a gunman opened fire on a group of 40,000 concert-goers, killing over 55 people and injuring in excess of 400. This comes a little over a month after a van driver intentionally plowed into a group of tourists in Spain and only 4 months after a suicide-bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in London. While unrelated, incidents like these, which seem to be occurring more frequently and escalating in ferocity, make us wonder what’s happening to the world around us. While I’m not usually one to focus attention on much in the way of current events, I would like to address the rising tide of fear to offer a bigger perspective and an encouragement to believers in Christ who (like me) continue to be alarmed at the trajectory of our world.
If you scan through the New Testament, you’ll see that, for the most part, Jesus’ teachings were directed to a small band of Jewish followers mired in a culture of religious legalism under the control of the hedonistic and corrupt government of Rome. They were in the extreme minority, and logically, had no possibility of making any difference in a society dominated by the corruption and wickedness that such power creates.
Yet in this environment, Christ’s clear instructions were to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:18) and to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) These were not locations that were full of Christians or that existed in peace and brotherly love. The threat of physical danger was real and odds against their success were daunting, but still they took the Lord’s command seriously! Wherever they went, the Gospel went with them, and through their bold testimony in the face of opposition and persecution and their willingness to risk everything to share Christ’s gift of salvation, little by little, the message of Jesus altered the society in which they lived. Today all that’s left of the Roman Empire are a few decaying building and museum artifacts, however the Gospel continues to spread and to change lives.
Even though we see the spread of darkness elbowing more deliberately into our world, this isn’t a time for giving up or wringing our hands in desperation. Despite what the news media would have us to believe, Christianity is not on the decline or in danger of being sidelined. In fact, there are many encouraging reports about the expansion of the Gospel in previously unreached places, and even a resurgence of true faith in our own country with believers confidently testifying to Christ’s transforming power. But even if every news outlet and article in the world told us a different story, we would still have reason to optimistic. Our faith isn’t in what we can see with our eyes. (2 Cor. 5:7) Our faith is in the promise of God, and He said, “the gates of hell will not prevail” against His church. (Matt. 16:18)
It’s important to understand what Jesus was saying here. He wasn’t picturing the church as immovably standing still as evil forces relentlessly attack as many people assume He was saying in this verse. “Gates” aren’t offensive in nature. They don’t move or advance. Instead, they are designed for defense. So, Jesus depicted the gates of hell as unable to withstand the battering ram of the Gospel, — crumbling before the forceful proclamation that He is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matt. 16:16) Don’t miss this! Believers are not on the defensive, and we’re not just trying to “hold ground.” God’s kingdom is advancing!! This news will never make the headlines or top your ‘you-tube’ feed. But, as we take part in the move of God in individual lives, one by one, our righteous living and continued testimony can and will influence others for good!
That doesn’t mean that we can expect terrorism to suddenly cease or people to stop clashing over ideologies. If you flip over to the last book of the Bible, you’ll see that things in our world are prophesied to get a whole lot worse before they get eternally better. But when you do see conflict increase, remember that as a believer, how you live makes a difference! Spreading the Gospel by word and action is still the method by which God chooses to effect change… first in us, and then in those around us.
While we will likely see more distressing escalations of violence and distrust between people and watch the culture trend away from the biblical moorings that once secured it, it’s our responsibility to be like the early disciples, and be so convinced of the message of God and confident in the promise of God that we are compelled to actually DO what Christ instructs. This means more than just reading the Bible occasionally, attending church and singing worship songs. We must be the salt and light Christ commanded us to be in the world today, which may mean that it costs us something just like it did for first century believers. But regardless of the price, (and whether we ever see tangible results or not), it’s up to each of us to make a daily decision to live boldly and deliberately for Christ so lives are changed and His fame spreads throughout the world!