And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, Hebrews 9:27 (NRSV)
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Matthew 24:36 (NRSV)
Where is the line drawn between prophet and madman? Ultimately it is in the reliability or truth of his predictions. Harold Camping was wrong about Jesus and the rapture last weekend. That is not without precedent; he was wrong when he set the same date in 1994. His believability is fading, and I am not going to wring my hands over the “end of the world” date he has set for October 21st!
Harold Camping has had plenty of company in the end times date-setting business:
ð In the middle of the 19th century the “Millerites” (followers of William Miller) sold their farms, quit jobs and waited for the second coming between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. It didn’t happen!
ð In the late 1800's members of the Jehovah's Witnesses sect set the spring of 1874 as the "Parousia" or appearing of our Lord. They were wrong. They were just as wrong when they moved the date to 18 months later.
ð In 1987 a book caused quite a stir. The title was “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Happen in 1988”. There was a sequel in 1989 – “Gotcha”.
These are just a few of the many hundreds of examples in history of fools and charlatans attempting to do what God says is impossible – set a date. What is sadder is the “collateral damage” of destroyed lives because of the actions of obsessed madmen like Harold Camping. One example is Lyn Benedetto, a 47 year old mother of two teenage girls. She couldn’t bear the thought of her daughters having to suffer through the horrors of Biblical tribulation, so she tried to kill them by slitting their throats the day before Camping’s May 21 deadline.
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There are many responses to all of this, such as
· Dismissal - avoiding any thought of a rapture or an afterlife
· Denial that there is a rapture or afterlife
· Disbelief in God (atheism) and even mocking God or faith
· Obsession – belief to the point of overreaching and fear
· Confused paralysis – unable to evaluate, unwilling to be affected
This list could go on and on, but the reactions to events like Camping’s fiasco, while interesting, are not as important as the reason why we react in fear or folly:
Whether you bring up the subject of rapture or heaven or simply death itself, there is a finality about this life. However your life ends, what ends with it is your ability to control anything….ANYTHING!
· All of your stuff is left behind
· All of your friends and family are left behind
· Any choice you ever made or had before you are now gone
This is the reality of death – you are no longer in charge….of ANYTHING! This is the reason we cling to life; it is why we fight so hard to stay young. It’s why we use wrinkle cream, join health clubs and do cosmetic surgery; we would even accept fooling ourselves that we’re not getting older or going to die. We want to hold onto our choices. We do not want to accept responsibility for entering life; the reality of death is too overwhelming. Once you die everything about your life on this planet is settled; all of what you have done is in the record book – there is no more opportunity to change or get it right or make amends…it’s over! Ultimately we are just too afraid to not be in control.
Well….it (your death or rapture) is going to happen whether you like it or not – or whether you choose to think about it or not!
With this in mind it is only a short step to the conclusion that, since these “threescore and ten” years of life on this planet is all we’ve got to write the record of our lives, it makes sense to get it right before we have no more choices!
In the interest of helping us face the responsibility factor of this life, let’s look into what God’s Word says about the reality of rapture or death, which (by the way) are our only two choices. And remember, whether you are a believer, an unbeliever (atheist) or simply confused (agnostic…who says “I don’t know if there is a god…and I don’t think you do either)…here is a statement we can all agree upon: It will be either rapture or death… this life will end! We will go to Him in death or He will come to us in the rapture.
Three statements about death or rapture:
Hebrews 9:27 says that we each have an appointment with death. Nobody gets out of this world alive! Psalm 31:14 says that our times are in God’s hand. That means our time on earth is up to Him, not us. Who can predict the length of life? So it is unpredictable, but, without question, certain!
Death’s transaction happens in an instant. Some people take longer in the process of getting to the transaction, but for each person, one instant there is the spirit of life and the next, it is gone. Have you ever been with someone when death happens? You know it; you know when they’re gone.
We have lost two brothers this year. One to whom we will say our “goodbyes” this afternoon, had a long trip to the transaction which took place suddenly at 5:09 Thursday. His brother, in seemingly wonderful health and vitality was taken in an instant. Both transactions were sudden; simply the timing and process were different. Rapture or death – it will be sudden.
Hebrews 9:27 says we are appointed to die. Our time is sudden and, more importantly, in God’s hands, not ours.
The sixteenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel shares Jesus’ account of Dives and Lazarus (Dives is Latin for “rich”). Lazarus was the poor man who sat at the rich man’s gate. He was a beggar and he had all the homelessness realities: little food, comfort or even basic human interaction. His life was merely an existence.
In contrast, the rich man had life by the tail…he ate whatever he wanted, went wherever he desired, and was respected…he had all the choices and power the poor man lacked.
Then…as we’ve been talking about…BOTH MEN DIED! The outcome for the rich man who made poor choices was hell; the poor man went to be with God.
Here is the conversation which continued between the rich man who was now poor and the God he snubbed in his earthly life:
He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ Luke 16:24 - 26 (NRSV)
The outcome was irreversible and based upon prior choices
There was a “great chasm” between heaven and hell; and it was “fixed”. The difference in outcome, based upon the rich man’s choices when he still had choices, was for eternity; after death…sudden death….no changes – no control!
These lessons teach us that it hardly matters whether we believe in rapture or not – you cannot change how life works. Life and death are unpredictable. Death is always sudden, and, either way the outcome is going to depend upon the choices you are now making. You cannot change how life works – only God is in control, and if you don’t like that…sorry…deal with it. You might as well try to prevent the sun from rising tomorrow morning. He is the Creator, and, like it or despise it, He is in charge!
You can ignore the reality of this or embrace it. Those are the choices that made the difference in the eternity of Dives and Lazarus. Dives chose to ignore his responsibility towards Lazarus and life. His consequences were real.
Wilmer McLean owned a small farm in the Shenandoah Valley in 1861. In the spring of that year two powerful armies met on his property—the Union army under General McDowell and the Confederate army under General Beauregard. The bloodiest war in American history began at Bull Run, a creek that ran through McLean's property.
McLean was not at all sure why the armies were fighting, but he was quite sure he did not want them fighting on his property. If he could not change the course of the war, he at least did not have to be part of it. McLean decided to sell out and go where the war would never find him.
He chose the most obscure place in the whole country—or so he thought: an old house in the village of Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Four years later General Grant was pursuing General Lee through Virginia. In Appomattox County, Grant sent a message to Lee asking him to meet and sign a truce. The place where they met to sign the peace that ended the Civil War was Wilmer McLean's living room! Some things you cannot get away from.
· Your death is unpredictable; you don’t know when it’s coming…but it IS coming.
· Your death will be sudden, even if the process is slow.
· Your death will take complete control of you…UNLESS you give complete control of you to Jesus; otherwise it will be death that has complete control…for eternity. Your choice – your responsibility.
It’s that simple.
Father, our time on this planet, just like our next breath, is in Your hands. Help us to make wise choices. Help us to refuse the voices of foolishness and madmen. Help us to see our treatment of others as the preparation for the sudden, irreversible loss of control our death, or Your appearing will be. Help us live like kids of Your kingdom. We pray in the Name of the Father, Because of the Son, Cooperating with the Spirit…Amen!