When Everything Else Is Crumbling
What Really Matters
When you focus only on the eschatological meaning of what Jesus says in Matthew 24, you miss the punch line. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (verse 35 GNT). That was the message of Michael Perreau, Director General of United Bible Societies, addressing us last week at an American Bible Society staff meeting.
That chapter describes great violence and massive destruction. Nowadays, with reports of national and international conflict and widespread terrorism, those prophecies take on a new immediacy. Our world—everything we rely on—seems to be passing away before our eyes.
Countries in conflict, famines and earthquakes, false prophets—the descriptions fit several epochs, including our own. Yet, buried amid the rubble of these grim predictions, we find an audacious promise. Though everything else falls apart, Jesus says, “my words will never pass away.”
Isaiah recorded a similar promise in Isaiah 40—written to people whose captivity was coming to an end. God offered comfort to his people as they languished in exile in Babylon. The glory of the Lord would soon be revealed. In this chapter a messenger receives a message to deliver: Human life is temporary, like desert grass. “Yes, grass withers and flowers fade, but the word of our God endures forever” (verse 8 GNT).
That’s a strange kind of comfort. Those of us who have watched too many adventure movies are familiar with turmoil and dire predictions, but we expect the earth to survive at the end. The key people come through the disaster, scarred but still breathing. The hero lives on, ready for the sequel.
But the audience for Isaiah 40 had been in exile for decades. Those who had been abducted as children were now dying of old age. A whole generation had been lost. But the true hero of this story is God’s word, and this story arc extends through eternity.
A long vision
We encounter Isaiah’s prophecy again in the New Testament, in a letter to suffering Christians. They were seeing some of the destruction Jesus had described in Matthew 24. Rome was beginning to turn its fury on the followers of Jesus. He had promised to return, but where was he? What could believers cling to when their whole world was falling apart?
The opening chapter of 1 Peter casts a long vision. Our focus is pulled off of the temporal world and toward the eternal. “For through the living and eternal word of God you have been born again as the children of a parent who is immortal, not mortal.” Then comes the Isaiah passage: we are grass, wildflowers, here today, gone tomorrow, but there is one thing that stands through all the trouble: “The word of the Lord remains forever.”
The New Testament author quotes the Old, and then adds a personal connection: “This word is the Good News that was proclaimed to you” (1 Peter 1:23-25).
In many parts of the world, Christians are suffering. It is challenging and inspiring to hear leaders like Michael Perreau sharing stories of Bible Societies around the world. In some of the globe’s most hostile territory, believers are clinging to the only eternal element in their turbulent circumstances. And they are risking their lives to proclaim the eternal word to others.
Jesus, Isaiah, and Peter all remind us that this is the only thing that matters. Our nest eggs may crack, our fame may falter, and even our church buildings may be repossessed—but the word of the Lord will not pass away. This is the word that has been proclaimed to us, and we have the privilege of proclaiming it to others.
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