Monday, January 3, 2011

May 21st and the end of the world

I was driving home from church yesterday and a billboard caught my attention.  Apparently, Jesus is coming back on May 21, 2011.  Now I had not heard anything of the sort, so my first thought was maybe that date was an important date in the church year and it was a symbolic way of bringing attention to the date.  Hmm….Easter is in April, Pentecost is in June.  May 21 is probably close to Ascension Day, but that day is more associated with Jesus leaving earth than Jesus coming back.  And the year was 2011, not 2012, so it couldn’t be associated with all the scuttlebutt about the Mayan calendar.  Coming up blank, I thought to myself, I’m sure I’ll hear more about it.
I was right.  Today there’s a news release about it (Washington Post, 1/3/11, “End of Days in May?”).  Apparently there’s a group that says, according to their reading of the Bible, they are able to date the end of time and May 21 is it.  Actually the group’s leader, Harold Camping has done all the reading and figuring out the timeline.
Of course this is not the first time someone has claimed to crack the “biblical code” and come up with a date.  When I graduated from high school back in 1979, I was pretty sure I would not have a family.  After all, Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth claimed that Jesus would return within one generation of the creation of Israel – which would have put the return somewhere around 1988.  Given all the trials and tribulations that were certain to happen leading up to Jesus’ return, I figured that it wasn’t right to bring a child into the world.  So no family for me! 
As you know, the world didn’t end in 1988.  And I did get married and have two children.    
Back to the most recent prediction.  Mr. Camping came up with May 21 based on his reading of biblical prophecy.  I guess that reading didn’t include Matthew 24:36-42, where Jesus, says to keep watch, because no one knows when the end will come – not the angels, not the Son, only the Father.  Or maybe Mr. Camping just discounted those verses.
Ok.  Jesus says no one knows the day and the hour, except the Father.  Mr. Camping says it’s going to be May 21.  Given the choice, I am going to go with Jesus on this.  So I’m not too concerned about the world ending in May. 
But what if it did?  What if you knew for sure that Jesus was going to come back in May?  Would that change anything for you? 
Go back to Matthew 24:45-49.  Jesus tells us about a faithful and wise servant who, during his master’s absence, runs the household justly and compassionately.  The servant doesn’t know when the master will return.  He just goes on doing what the master asked him to do until he returns.  There’s also a wicked servant who treats the other servants cruelly and takes advantage of the trust the master places in him. 
Jesus uses this example to remind us to be ready, because the Lord may come back at any time.  I once heard my pastor (during a lesson on the book of Revelation) tell a class of confirmation students that it didn’t really matter when Jesus was coming back.  After all, you could be hit by a bus tomorrow.  And that would be the day you meet Jesus!  Pretty extreme, but exactly the point: we don’t even know how long each of us will live, let alone when Jesus is coming back.  So we need to quit worrying about “when” and start concentrations on “how”    
It’s a little like a person who gets a diagnoses of an untreatable, terminal disease.  Suddenly her days are numbered – she has 6 months, a year, a few weeks.  Each day becomes a precious treasure.  It reminds me of the Tim McGraw song “Live Like You Were Dying.”  It’s the story of a man told he had cancer and what he did with the gift of his remaining time and his advice to his friend not to wait but to start living like he was dying.    
So a group thinks the world will end May 21, 2011.  So what?
The question is not when Jesus is coming back, or what day you will die.  Jesus pretty clearly teaches that these are futile questions and not worthy of our time.  The real question is what are you going to do today - how does your walk with Jesus affect the way you live today and tomorrow and next year.  Living in the here and now in a God-pleasing way is what Jesus modeled for us, what he taught us, what he wants for us (see the Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5-7 - for a snapshot of what Jesus taught) .
So let’s concentrate on loving God and others today.  That’s really all we can do.  Let’s leave tomorrow alone – today has enough joys and troubles to occupy us.  Tomorrow will take care of its self.  Oh wait – Jesus said that too (Matthew 6:33-34).

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