Stop gracing and start disciplining!

JESUS’ LAST PREDICTION

Jesus was on the way to be crucified. Women mourned and wailed over what was being done to an innocent and just man. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”‘ For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D.70, and pregnant women and children suffered the most. I know a little about such times. My mother was pregnant when our attempt to escape from the Soviets was unsuccessful in 1939. In January 1940, the Soviets traded us to the Nazis. In 1945, we were able to escape to the West. These were troubling days; but, in no way comparable to what the future held for Jesus’ followers. From the beginning, when Stephen was stoned (Ac. 7) and to the time of Emperor Galerius A.D. 305, Christians were violently persecuted. During the Emperors Decius and Diocletian (249-305), Rome was approaching her millennium. The empire was failing and Christians were blamed for their decline. The two tyrants decided to exterminate Christianity and return to the pagan religion. Many followers, during the persecution, lapsed or recanted their loyalty to Christ. The Emperor’s last hurrah did not succeed. Constantine converted Rome, not himself, to Christianity for political benefits. Before he died, he too accepted Christian Baptism.

By the time of the Emperor Constantine, Christianity had grown up. It was no longer a green tree but a dry one. While it was green, it endured the trimming and the pruning through persecutions and tribulations. It spread in spite of the opposing difficulties and hardships. But once it became the recognized state religion, it too dried up and its branches began to break and fall. The vibrant Christianity of the New Testament was being replaced by a theocratic oligarchy. A Pope with his cardinals and his priests had sway over everything for 1200 years. Any attempt to return to a New Testament Church was cut down until Martin Luther broke away in A.D. 1517. Throughout this time and beyond, the persecuted became the persecutor. And when the reformers began to splinter into many groups that would become separate denominations, they too resorted to coercion and violence. In both, Catholicism and Protestantism, the green tree was allowed to dry up.

Jesus made the prediction at a time when the religion of the day had dried up and the new tree (religion) was about to be cut down. The dried up religion would not survive. The same fate has disabled Western Christianity. Is there a major reason we can point at? Jesus also predicted that his followers would have tribulations in this world (Jn.16: 33) and many would lose their lives (Rev.7: 14). His Kingdom was not of this world and his followers were not expected of being received with open arms (Jn.18: 36; Mk.1: 9-23). Tribulation was part of the Gospel message the early Christians endured (Ac.14: 22). The writer to the Hebrews was already facing the fading of the green tree (Christian life). He wrote, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he chastises everyone he accepts as a son.’ Endure hardships as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?” (Heb.12: 4-7).

In the endeavor to save the world, Western Christianity has neglected to discipline herself. Life has been too easy to resist the sins and temptations of the world. No severe testing or tribulations have confronted Christians. Christianity is no longer being trimmed or pruned. Her dissimilarity with the world is unidentifiable. It is not surprising that the world has better morals than many Christians that lean on grace, rather than on self-discipline – even though morality is not a Christian, but a human issue. James, half-brother of Jesus, had this suggestion: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (Ja.1: 2-4). These were not aches and pains that troubled the first Christians, but the secular and religious authorities that tried to shut them down (Ac.8: 1-3). And why were they trying to shut down these witnesses of Christ? They could not stand hearing that they had to repent or perish (Lk.13: 5). Jesus and his followers reminded them of their sinful ways (Jn.15: 20-15).

Why is it in our time and place that the name of Jesus has become so offensive? Why has Western Christianity caved in over the use of the name of her Savior? What has she left that warrants her role in the world? At the inception of this nation, Christians were divided; nevertheless, vibrant and sprouting like a green tree. Now, with the exception of some green branches, the tree (Christianity) has dried up. Even the green branches are mistaking grace for discipline and are in danger of forfeiting their salvation (Rev.21: 27). It is high time that we stop gracing and start disciplining (Heb.12: 1-3).