Summary: Three ways Christians can face the future confidently without speculating about the details of Christ’s second coming.
Note: This sermon was introduced with a drama called "Party Like It’s 1999" (www.dramaministry.com).
With the year 2000 on the horizon, it seems that more and more people are talking about all the possible disasters that could take place. Extremist author Gary North predicts that the y2k computer bug will bring about the end of civilization as we know it. In January of this year Time magazine devoted its cover story to millennial madness and the y2k issue. In his excellent book The Millennial Bug Debugged, Christian author Hank Hanagraaff describes a dinner he had with a Christian book publisher earlier this year. The publisher wasn’t at all concerned about the y2k computer problem, but he did see y2k as an opportunity to make a substantial amount of money. He half-jokingly said to Hanagraaff, "This is our year to sell fear."
And "sell fear" is exactly what lots of people have done as people both inside and outside the Christian community lined their wallets by pumping out hysteria and fear. The rest of the world has noticed this trend. This week’s Newsweek has as it’s cover story Biblical prophecy about the end of the world.
As I’ve been watching all this, I have a theory as to why we’re seeing a rise in millennial madness, end times speculation, and y2k anxiety. The deeper issue beneath all this is the issue of security. Kenneth Woodward says it well in his Newsweek article: "Thinking of the end of the world-like contemplating one’s own death-is a painful process." At its heart, massive speculation about the y2k computer bug and the significance of the year 2000 has shattered the illusion we’ve so carefully created that our way of life is secure.
Perhaps you remember the old Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale The Emperor’s New Clothes. The Emperor’s tailor pretends to weave an invisible set of clothes, and because everyone is afraid of the Emperor they all pretend that his new clothes are real, when in reality he’s parading around in his underwear. The emperor’s new clothes in our current world is the idea that our lives are safe and secure. In the drama, the character Rick said, "We’re on the brink of the whole world entering an unknown future. And we’re standing here seeing it coming, not able to do a single thing to slow it down or stop it. You can fight it and fight it, but in the end you’re powerless, even though it’s right in front of you, coming directly over you."
The irony of Rick’s statement is that it’s true of every moment, because each moment we enter into an unknown future that we can’t control. In the end, the Steve Miller band is right: "Time keeps on slipping into the future." Millennial fever is merely an attempt to regain a sense of security after we realize that the emperor’s new clothes aren’t real.
We grasp at straws for security, straws like setting dates or coming up with elaborate timelines on how the end of the world will come about. These are feeble and futile attempts to preserve the illusion that our lives are secure, ways to try to assure ourselves that life tomorrow will be basically the same as it is today. We’re in the midst of a series called LIVING CONFIDENTLY IN UNCERTAIN TIMES through the New Testament books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. This issue is nothing new to us, but people facing the uncertainty of the future have constructed their own emperor’s new clothes in every generation of human history. The Thessalonian Christians had caught the millennial fever in their own time. In fact, one New Testament scholar named Robert Jewett has suggested that everything Paul writes in 1 and 2 Thessalonians needs to be understood in light of the church being caught up in millennial fever. In light of the social and cultural upheaval the Thessalonian Christians were experiencing, they too were groping for dates and timelines for how time would end in order to regain a sense of security.
In Paul’s response to the Thessalonian millennial fever, we’re going to find three ways we can confidently face the future without resorting to calendars and timelines. We’re going to find three ways to have Christian confidence without a detailed calendar of how the end will come.
1. Admitting Our Limited Knowledge (1 Thess 5:1-3)
Let’s look at how Paul approaches this subject of the future in verses 1 to 3. If you were here last week, you might remember that the Thessalonians were deeply concerned about some of their Christian friends who’d died. They were worried that when Jesus came again at the end of the age, these departed Christian friends might somehow miss out on Christ’s coming. So at the end of chapter 4 Paul described the rapture and he assured them that regardless of whether a Christian is dead or alive when the rapture comes, that all followers of Jesus will equally participate. No one would be left out.