According to warhistoryonline.com, the most infamous of booby traps employed by the Vietnamese during the Vietnam war were called punji stakes. Sharpened bamboo stakes of various lengths and widths could be hidden in camouflaged pits. An unsuspecting soldier would think he was on solid ground, walking along for days at a time. But if he crossed over a pit of punji stakes, he would fall into the trap and be killed or seriously wounded.
Jesus talks about another trap in Luke 21:34-35 (NIV):
Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.
As Jesus teaches about the end times and the day of his return, he says that the final day could close unexpectedly like a trap, and he wants his disciples to be careful. What should we be careful of? Jesus warns that our hearts can be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life.
Dissipation means unbridled indulgence in alcohol and the hangover that can accompany it. Drunkenness, of course, means the loss of control due to too much alcohol, and the cares of this life refer to the anxieties we face every day.
That sounds very familiar to us today. In 2020 we are seeing higher rates of alcohol and substance abuse, higher rates of depression, and higher rates of suicide. According to the CDC, “U.S. adults reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19.” And, “During late June, 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use.”
We cannot pretend that we as Christians are immune to depression and anxiety and the temptations they bring. Christians, too, also struggle at times with alcohol and drug abuse, suicidal thoughts, and chronic depression.
What should we do about this? We cling to Jesus. Jesus warns us against using alcohol (or drugs) to find false comfort and pain relief. Instead, we cling to Jesus in worship and prayer, in receiving the Lord’s Supper, and by responding to him with prayer and praise. Instead of being filled with anxiety and fear about this life, we present our prayer requests to him, trusting him for his peace which transcends all understanding.
Martin Luther, in his letter “Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague”, wrote that one must “admonish the people to attend church and listen to the sermon so that they learn through God’s word how to live and how to die. . . . Second, everyone should prepare in time and get ready for death by going to confession and taking the sacrament once every week or fortnight.”
Luther wrote these words during the time of the Bubonic plague, when a quarter or more of the population of a town could die from that disease. And while he encouraged the use of hospitals, medicine, and quarantine for the sick, Luther was very firm in stating that a spiritually healthy life, centered around worship, was the most important thing for God’s people. For the Christian, facing death with faith in Christ is something we can do with courage and faith.
Let me encourage you to be encouraged by your Savior. He died for your sins and conquered the grave at his resurrection. He has power over death, and will one day raise all people from the dead and give to us and all believers eternal life!
Christ is risen! This is our comfort! This is our joy! This is our strength in these days!