January 24, 1992

A DATE WITH DESTINY

As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now.  You may leave.  When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” Acts 24:25

When is Jesus Christ going to return to earth?  So far nobody’s come up with the correct date, but it’s not for lack of trying.  In the fall of 1992, a group of Koreans believed that Jesus would return on a certain day.  Maybe you came across it in the news.  These people left their work and gathered in a group to welcome Jesus on the day they expected him to return.  When the day passed and nothing happened, they waited a few more hours and then returned to their homes.

Something similar happened in 1988 in the United States.  Edgar Whisenant, a former rocket engineer with NASA, wrote a book called, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will be in 1988.  People were buying the book left and right, and stores had a hard time keeping it on the shelf.  Whisenant was saying that the great event would occur sometime between September 11 and 13 of 1988.  However, it seems that the Lord must not have found Whisenant’s 88 reasons very convincing.  September 13 came and went, 1988 came and went, and nothing happened.  As you might expect, Whisenant’s bestseller isn’t selling very well anymore.

Some people have been so sure of their predictions that they managed to keep on believing them even after the date passed.  Back in 1831 a farmer-preacher named William Miller began preaching that the world would end twelve years later, in 1843.  Thousands believed his message, but New Year’s Eve of 1843 came and went with his prediction unfulfilled.  Not one to give up easily, Miller revised his calculations and told his followers that the new date would be Oct. 22, 1844.  By this time he had nearly 50,000 followers, most of whom had left other denominations.  When Oct. 22 passed with no remarkable occurrences, many abandoned Miller and returned to their former churches.  However, a small band clung doggedly to Miller’s prophecy.  Instead of simply admitting they had been wrong, they went back to their Bibles, looking for new insight, and they concluded that the 1844 date had been correct after all, but that it had been an invisible event, the day that Christ had entered the most holy place in the heavenly sanctuary.  No wonder nobody noticed!

Still another person who made precise predictions about the end was Charles Taze Russell.  Russell was a man who broke with historic Christian teachings to found a group which eventually became known as Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Russell was absolutely certain that the world would end in 1914, but he himself lived until 1916 without seeing it happen.  Russell’s successor as head of the Watchtower Society was Joseph Rutherford.  He coined the slogan, “Millions Now Living Will Never Die” and revised the date, pointing to 1925 as the year.  However, Rutherford saw 1925 pass by uneventfully and lived until 1943.  But even those failures did not bring the Watchtower Society’s predictions to an end.  More recently, you may recall, Jehovah’s Witnesses became convinced that 1975 would be the final year, and once again they proved to be mistaken.

Take a look even further back in history, and you’ll find that the approach of the year 1000 brought with it a tremendous amount of anxiety and expectation.  Many people had come to believe that Jesus would come again at the end of the first thousand years of the church’s existence.  As the date approached, some people simply stopped working, sold their homes and farms, and bought themselves a little plot of ground near a church or monastery to await on holy ground the glorious coming of the Lord.  Unfortunately for them, history moved right into another millennium without a hitch, and they had to find a way to make a living again.

In the 1500s even a man as brilliant as Martin Luther, the great Reformer, was caught up in the feeling that the end was near.  He was wise enough not to pinpoint an exact date, and he didn’t insist that he had absolute biblical proof for his opinion.  But the 1500s were a time of great religious and political upheaval, and Luther couldn’t help believing that the Second Coming was just around the corner.  He said, “It is my firm belief that the angels are getting ready, putting on their armor and girding their swords about them, for the last day is already breaking.”  On another occasion, he said, “As things are beginning to go, the last day is at the door, and I believe that the world will not endure 100 years.”  Well, it’s been more than 400 years now since Luther said that.

As you can see, there have been many attempts throughout history to fix a timetable for Jesus’ return.  So far the only thing all of them have in common is that they’ve all been wrong.  Still, in spite of all those failed predictions, people keep right on trying to pinpoint the date.  These days it’s more common than ever.  Various things, such as the founding of the nation of Israel, various wars and earthquakes and other natural disasters, and now the approach of the year 2000, have led people to make their end times predictions.

Meanwhile, as various people keep setting dates in their preaching and publications, there’s another set of people who are watching from the sidelines and laughing.  As each new deadline for the Second Coming comes and goes, they snicker and feel more smug than ever that Jesus is never going to return.  To such people, each failed prediction is one more proof that Christianity is false.

However, the fact that all those predictions have been mistaken doesn’t disprove the truthfulness of Jesus Christ at all. In reality, it’s quite the opposite:   With each failed prediction, Jesus’ truthfulness is confirmed.  After all, it was Jesus who said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father…” and then he added, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come”  (Matthew 24:36,42).  On another occasion, when asked about the coming kingdom, Jesus replied:  “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (Acts 1:7).  So it’s ironic, but the only way anyone could be right about the exact date of Jesus’ coming is if Jesus himself turned out to be wrong.  Jesus has plainly declared that it isn’t for us to know.  The fact that some of his followers have tried to figure it out anyway doesn’t at all mean that Jesus himself was wrong, or that he’s not coming back.  He is;  we just don’t know when.

And you do have to concede at least one thing to those who try to calculate when the end will come:  at least they take the Lord’s coming seriously.  That’s a lot better than scoffing at the whole idea.  Okay, so maybe it’s a mistake to think you can pinpoint the exact moment of Jesus’ return, but it’s a far worse mistake to think that Jesus isn’t going to return at all.  At least those who are wrong about the timing are right about the fact that it’s going to happen, and they want to be ready.  The scoffers, on the other hand, will be caught totally unprepared.

The apostle Peter wrote,

First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.  They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?  Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation…

But [continues Peter] do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar;  the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. (2 Peter 3:3-4,8-10)

That’s what the Bible says, and it’s nothing to scoff at.  The day of the Lord is surely coming, and don’t be so busy laughing at the failed predictions about precise dates that you don’t get ready to meet the Lord.  It may be somewhat silly and misguided for people to try predicting an event that Jesus said couldn’t be predicted, but it’s far more foolish–in fact, it’s absolutely insane–to think that the Lord isn’t coming back at all.  Those who think that way will be caught totally unprepared. You don’t need to know the exact date to know that you should be ready for the Lord to come at any time.  Jesus hasn’t told us exactly when he’ll come, but he has told us to expect the unexpected and to be prepared.  He says to you and to me, “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44).

According to the Bible, each one of us has a date with destiny.  We don’t know exactly what that date is, but that’s all the more reason to be ready at all times, so that no matter what happens, we can say, “It is well with my soul.”

Can you echo the words of that hymn in your own heart?  Can you say that no matter what, “It is well with my soul?”  Are you ready and eager for the Lord to return?  Or is it something you’d rather not think about, or something you don’t believe in at all?

Well, however you feel about it, you do have a date with destiny, a time when your final destination will be sealed and fixed forever, whether in heaven or in hell, in eternal blessing or eternal punishment.  You don’t need to put much stock in the various attempts at setting a date for Jesus’ return to know that you should be ready for it at any time.  In 1 Thessalonians 5, the apostle Paul writes,

Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3).

Your date with destiny will arrive very suddenly if Jesus chooses to return in our lifetime.  And if you don’t belong to Christ, your damnation will be swift and sudden.

The fact that Jesus could return at any time, however, is not the only reason you need to respond to him right now.  Even if Jesus doesn’t return in your lifetime, you still have a date with destiny, because you still have a date with death.  The Bible says that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).  Some day your life on earth will be over, and once it is, there will be no second chance.  At that point, either your salvation has already been guaranteed, or else your doom has already been sealed.  It all depends on whether you were made right with God before you died.

We saw earlier that Martin Luther turned out to be mistaken when he thought that the world would end in less than 100 years. However, before those hundred years were up, Luther’s own life did of course end, and so it’s a good thing he was ready to meet Jesus.  The fact that the world could end suddenly is one urgent reason to be ready right now, but equally urgent is the fact that your own life could end at any moment.

If you’re already elderly, or if you’ve got a life-threatening illness, your date with destiny is staring you right in the face.  If you’re not already prepared to meet the Lord, you’ve only got a little time left.

And even if you’re young and vigorous and in the prime of life, you need to be ready.  There’s a cartoon that shows a health nut walking down the street, gloating over how healthy he is and how well he’s taking care of his body.  The cartoon shows him thinking, “Low sugar, low fat, low salt, high fiber, plenty of fruit, plenty of exercise.”  Meanwhile, as he walks along smirking smugly about his excellent health, an enormous piano is plunging through the air and is about to smash him.  Yes, even a health nut can have a sudden date with destiny.

I trust I don’t have to remind you of accidents, plane crashes, murders, sudden strokes, heart attacks, cancer, and AIDS–you know all about these things.  You might like to think they can’t happen to you, but they can.  Death can strike people of any age, and when death strikes, your time is up.  There’s no going back.  Your destiny is sealed.  You are “destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.”

So let me just ask you:  If your date with destiny turned out to be ten minutes from now, would you be ready?  Would you?  Don’t stop asking yourself that question until you can say, “Yes, I would.  I’m sure.  I know I belong to Jesus, I’ve committed myself to following him, and I look forward to the day when I can see him face to face.”

Friend, the gospel of Jesus Christ is an urgent message.  The stakes are high, and the time is short.  The impact that the gospel has on you during your time here on earth will determine whether you spend eternity in heaven or in hell.  So the stakes are indeed high, and there is no time to waste.  You need to be prepared at every moment because Jesus may return suddenly, at a moment when you least expect him, and also because death could strike you down instantly and without warning.

But in addition to the Second Coming of Jesus, and the possibility of sudden death, there’s another reason that responding to the gospel is such an urgent matter, and that is this:  the longer you put off responding to Christ, the less likely it becomes that you will ever do so.  When it comes to the gospel, procrastination is harmful and often fatal.  If you put off responding to Jesus, thinking you still might do it later, you could be sealing your own doom, even if the Lord doesn’t return and you go on living for many years.

To see what I mean, consider the sad story of Antonius Felix.  Felix was governor of the province of Judea at the time when Claudius was emperor of Rome, and he had the opportunity to meet personally with the greatest missionary of the Christian church.  The apostle Paul had recently been arrested on trumped-up charges, and he’d been placed under Felix’s jurisdiction.  Felix and his wife Drusilla were curious to learn more about the faith Paul was preaching, and so they arranged a private meeting.  The Bible tells what happened in Acts 24:

[Felix] sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus.  As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now!  You may leave.  When I find it convenient, I will send for you.”

Notice what’s happening here:  Felix has developed a genuine interest in the Christian message, and as Paul speaks, it actually starts getting to him.  Paul doesn’t just mutter sweet religious platitudes to make Felix feel good.  He talks about righteousness:  he insists on the necessity of being right with God through faith in Jesus.  He talks about self-control:  he tells Felix that following Jesus means you do what God wants instead of doing whatever you feel like.  He talks about judgment:  he describes the ultimate and dreadful consequences that will befall Felix if he continues to live without Christ.

At this point, Paul’s words are stirring Felix and even scaring him.  Finally, Felix decides he can’t take it anymore, and he says, “That’s enough for now!  We can talk about this again some other time, when it’s more convenient.”  God’s truth has been making Felix uncomfortable and upset, but instead of falling on his knees and putting his faith in Jesus, Felix decides to put the whole thing on hold.  He figures he can always talk with Paul again later when he isn’t so shaken up and upset and emotional.

But later turned out to be too late.

Oh, Jesus didn’t return the next day, and Felix didn’t suddenly drop dead a week later.  Life went on pretty much as usual for Felix, and he had conversations with Paul from time to time, just as he said he would.  But the message never again stirred him as it had before, and as time passed he became less interested in learning about the way of salvation and more concerned than ever with the same old things that had always controlled his corrupt soul.

According to the Bible, Felix “was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.”  As time went by, Felix became less and less concerned about eternal life, and more and more concerned about collecting a bribe.  He got neither.  Finally, two years later, Felix was replaced by a new governor, and before he left office, he again showed his true colors.  Because there were no substantive charges against Paul, Felix could have released him, but instead, he decided to leave Paul in prison to win some political points with some of Paul’s enemies who happened to be very powerful.

For that one fateful moment, Felix had been stirred by the message of righteousness and self-control and judgment, but he decided to put the Lord on hold, and by so doing, he became more fixed in his old ways than ever.  Instead of being transformed and saved by Jesus, he got deeper and deeper into the rut of corruption and injustice and political expediency on the road to hell.

What happened to Felix has happened to countless people.  There’s a certain point at which they have a spark of interest in the gospel, they may even feel some fear of the consequences of not accepting Christ, but just when they’re feeling the force of the message most powerfully, they say with Felix, “That’s enough for now.  Maybe tomorrow, when it’s more convenient.”  But when tomorrow comes, they find that the gospel still isn’t “convenient,” and even worse, they find that it no longer moves them as it had earlier.  That’s ultimately why it’s so urgent to respond to the gospel and commit your life to Jesus just as soon as possible.  The longer you listen to the gospel without responding, the more calloused you become.

Let me tell you why that is.  It’s because God has decreed that the gospel of Jesus will always have an effect.  It may not always have a saving effect, but it will have an effect.  It never simply “bounces off.”  The gospel either melts your heart or hardens it.  It either draws you to Christ or drives you further from him.  But whatever the result, one thing is sure:  every time you hear the gospel, it changes you.  You won’t be the same person after this hearing this message as you were before.  If you choose to put God off till another time, you won’t simply remain the same;  your heart will be harder then than it is now.  And so you can’t afford to wait.  As the Bible puts it, God’s “Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8).  Today.  Right now.  Don’t harden your heart.  Open your heart to Jesus.  Today.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying you should make a hasty decision based purely on the emotions of the moment.  I’m aware that some people need to study and ponder and ask questions and have a fuller understanding of the gospel before they can really put their trust in Jesus and commit their lives to him, and that’s okay.  But if that’s the case with you, just be sure that you’re really seeking, and not just stalling, that you’re really preparing and not just procrastinating.  It’s one thing to eagerly pursue a deeper understanding in order to make your commitment meaningful, but it’s quite another to simply put the Holy Spirit on hold and tell him you might get back to him later.

So don’t assume that you can refuse Christ for the time being and do your own thing for a while yet, and then in a few years, decide that it’s time to accept him and get ready for your date with destiny.  God refuses to be trifled with, and faith is not the sort of thing you can flip on and off at will, like a light switch.  If you refuse God now, you may find in the future that you’ve become so hardened that you’re not even capable of taking God seriously at all.

There is no better time than right now to prepare for your date with destiny.  The Bible says, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).  Not later.  Now.  You need to trust Jesus, and you need to do it now.  It’s urgent.  The Lord’s return may be very near.  Death could strike without warning.  And even if it turns out that you live a long time yet, God may never give you the same opportunity again that he’s giving you right now.  So don’t harden your heart.  Instead, accept Jesus and get ready for your date with destiny.

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, thank you for opening the way to forgiveness through your death, and for confirming the promises of eternal life through your resurrection.  Thank you too for the hope of your coming again.

And now, Lord, send your Spirit to open our hearts to receive you and welcome you, so that when we see you face to face, you will receive and welcome us.  Prepare us now for that great day.  Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.