sermon

Only the Father Knows

Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.

December 3, 2017

Text: Mark 13:32,   O.T.: Isaiah 64:1-9, N.T.: Mark 13:24-37

First Sunday of Advent

            America is built upon Apocalyptic expectations. When the Pilgrims came to America, they believed their settlement was part of God’s great Apocalyptic plan. They drew their belief from a British astronomer by the name of John Bainbridge. In 1618, Bainbridge predicted a global upheaval was about to take place. The settling of America was the beginning of the upheaval.

Bainbridge based his belief on a cosmic sign that crossed the heavens. On November 28, 1618 a comet began to blaze above London’s skies. Its long triangular tale was seen for four weeks. The comet was observed around the world before it vanished in the neighborhood of the Polar Star. Bainbridge studied it with his telescope. He believed it was an omen that God was about to destroy or redeem humankind.

Bainbridge declared the Protestant mission that was emerging in England was part of a grand cosmic plan. Taking the gospel from England to convert the world was fulfilling Mark 13. The Pilgrims were part of the plan. Their New England was just one piece of God’s cosmic work of redemption.   Plymouth and Jamestown were critical for Christ’s return.

The Pilgrims believed they were on the threshold of God’s redemption of the world. Jesus’ Second Coming was just over the horizon.

The Pilgrim vision of America’s purpose on history’s stage lies embedded at the root of our national culture – long after the Pilgrims faded from history.  The power of the American evangelical mission to make disciples around the world has inspired global mission for 400 years.

But in recent years the Apocalyptic vision has changed as America has changed. When I was in high school, Hal Lindsey wrote The Late Great Planet Earth. Lindsey believed the Cold War was a cosmic struggle between good and evil that would lead to Christ’s coming. For Lindsey evangelizing the world was not critical. The re-formation of Israel was the great sign of God’s global plan of redemption. Israel’s restoration was critical for Armageddon to arrive. Since 1969, Lindsey has written 13 books. Most of them are take-offs on The Late Great Planet Earth. He has a television show and quite a following.

But Linsey’s work was eclipsed in 1995. This new vision from American evangelical Christians was published in the first of The Left Behind series. The first four installments of the series occupied the top four spots in the New York Times best seller’s list, in 1998. The New York Times Best seller’s list doesn’t take into account Protestant book sellers’ sales. A lot of secular book stores couldn’t keep the series on the shelves. Eventually, over 65 million copies of the Left Behind series were sold.

Now this is a drop in the bucket compared to Harry Potter. Over 450 million Harry Potter books have been sold. Yet public interest in a Christian version of the end times still stimulates curiosity despite America’s secularization.

But there’s a big difference between reading about an imaginary Apocalypse and living it. The Pilgrims didn’t just read Mark 13. They believed they were part of it. They left England for America. Their Apocalyptic convictions began our New World.

The earliest Christians didn’t just listen to what the Apostles taught about Jesus. The Apostles didn’t listen passively at Jesus’ feet. They were stimulated by the expectation that spreading the gospel was integral for Christ’s return.

The earliest followers of Jesus did not passively wait for Christ to redeem the world. They were fulfilling Christ’s mission. They were compelled by their love for Jesus to preach the gospel around the world.

What drives congregations’ passion for mission today? Is it the expectation that Christ is returning to judge the world? Is Bellevue United Presbyterian Church’s mission connected with our expectation that its part of the plan for Christ’s return? To what extent does it consciously drive you to participate in God’s plan?

New England’s colonists were driven by concern for the Day of the Lord’s return. They saw Christ’s return in the here and now. They were anxious they weren’t living up to God’s expectations. God had blessed them with a New England. He had granted them grace in Christ, and in this New World. They had an acute sense of His return being imminent. Congregations that are growing share in common one trait – they have an acute sense that Christ’s return is imminent and are concerned about bringing people to Jesus Christ.

A few years ago the pastor of a 4,000 member congregation wrote a book named book, Radical. Rev. David Platt is the book’s author and challenges Christians about fulfilling Christ’s mission.

Each of us might give a different view of the key message in Radical. Yet what lies at the heart of the book’s message is David Platt’s intense conviction that Christ’s return is drawing near. Christ’s return has tremendous implications for the future. Pastor Platt believes we must not under-estimate what lies ahead. If we are to be ready for Christ’s return we need to “take back our faith from the American dream.” The American dream isn’t the same as Christian faith.

Our dream lies in knowing Jesus Christ and accepting Him as Lord.

David Platt’s book challenges the Church to separate what has become American Christianity from what is authentic Christianity. Authentic Christianity is radical. It’s all about leaving the comfort of the Old World for the mission frontier of the New World. It’s living like the Pilgrims – today!

David Platt identifies the New World of God’s redemption plan lies beyond foreign mission. The New World is wherever there are men and women are yearning for hope in God and there are Christians ready to offer Jesus Christ to give them hope. The New World is where lost lives are being found for knowing the power of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ.

The New World is where Christians aren’t afraid to make radical changes in their lives for Christ’s mission. They aren’t concerned about preserving their lives at the expense of preaching the Gospel. They aren’t quietly waiting for Christ to come. They accept only God knows when Christ is returning. But they aren’t complacent about fulfilling His mission, no matter what it takes. It calls us to take the Gospel out of a sanctuary’s comfort into the wilderness of life.

Even though Christ has given us hints about the timing of His return. None of can really know when it will be. We must live like His return is today. This urgency drives David Platt’s intensity to fulfill Christ’s mission of disciple-making.

He’s calling us to be like the Pilgrims. He believes God is calling each of us to live as if any day Christ is returning. Passively waiting in the comfort of American Christianity isn’t going to cut it with God.

We need to consider whether we are willing to be radical in our mission, like the Pilgrims were with Jesus Christ’s mission. We need to be actively pursuing His plan as His Pilgrims on His mission.

Amen.

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