Why do so many people go to fortune tellers?
Here in Jinju, there are shamans by the dozen all over the city. And they have clients who want to know the future. Why do people want to know the future? Is it possible to know the future?
Last year we had the American pastor who thought he knew the exact day when the world would end. He has now had to admit that the world is still here and he was wrong.
Why did he think he could know the date of the end of the world?
It’s because in the minds of many people the future is part of the motion picture, or sitcom, in which they are living today. The actors and camera crews have followed a script, it has all been caught on tape and edited, and now we are merely watching it play out to the end. We are nothing more than bystanders, mere spectators being entertained. We want to know when the final scene is coming so we can be prepared.
Thinking like this extends a clear timeline into the future, and people love to speculate endlessly on the length of that line.
We said the kingdom of heaven is like a party. So now we want to know, when is the party? We said it is like the cure for a virus, and now we want to know how soon the cure will be found.
What did Jesus say in today’s reading? Listen again to his words.
But the time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.
It’s here now and God is looking people who will worship him today.
Jesus often said, ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Or close at hand. Which means when?
It meant when Jesus was talking two thousand years ago.
He said in some other things that seemed to put it in the future, such as Mark 9:1 and Luke 9:27. “I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Kingdom of God arrive in great power!”
In Luke 17:20-21 Jesus tells the Pharisees that the kingdom is not coming with signs because it is already among them, or within them.
In Acts, after he has been resurrected, the last thing Jesus says before he leaves this earth is in answer to this repeated desire of people to know the future.
Acts 1:6 – So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
What does he say in plain English?
He says it is none of your business, so stop thinking about it! Don’t ask! You are not to know the time or the date. What you are to do is this, he adds, you are to be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.
Don’t ask for how long. Don’t ask when you can stop.
If you do what I ask, he implies, but doesn’t state clearly, you will be part of bringing about the future you desire. In other words, the answer to ‘how long?’ is in our hands not his. It is not set in stone, so to say, by God from the beginning of time but it is up to you and me how seriously we take his last instruction to ‘don’t ask’ but to ‘be my witnesses’.
As he told the Samaritan woman at the well, God is looking right now for people who will worship him in spirit and in truth.
The Bible is not a coded document that hides future knowledge from us until we can figure out how to decode it. But neither is the future totally random and formless, without any shape, chaos. God clearly has a plan, and he clearly has purpose and intent.
Prophesy is not about peering through the mists to glimpse what is destined to happen.
Prophesy is about changing the future.
Let’s look at an example. A prophet is like a mother of two small children. She says to her children, if you play with knives you will get hurt. Is that a foretelling of an event? Has it already been written into the spiritual fabric of the universe that one or both of these children will be hurt by a knife during play?
No! It is a warning. If you do this, that will happen. If you don’t do this, that won’t happen. It’s a bad thing, we don’t want it to happen, so don’t play with knives.
So much of the prophesy in the Old Testament is God’s warnings to his chosen people of the dire consequences of ignoring him and continuing on the path of selfishness.
And how many times did they ignore God, and what he said came to pass. If they had listened it would not have come to pass.
One of my favourite prophets is miserable Jonah. Grumpy Jonah complained to God about the prophesy he was told to deliver to Nineveh. He said to God, if he told them of the coming destruction, they would repent, they would stop doing the evil and escape the destruction, and he would look stupid. He was angry at God and wanted to have his prophecy come to pass. He wanted their total destruction. But Jonah was right, and God saved them when they repented.
As Christians what do we have if we don’t have a fixed and unchangeable, established from the dawn of time, chain of events laid in front of us?
What we have is a mixture of promises and warnings. In the book of Revelation and in the Gospels, we have warnings and promises, in the letters we have warnings and promises of the future.
And we have responsibility for helping bring about the promises and avoiding the warnings. Every day the choice is ours, to enter the kingdom now or not enter, to start the party today or wait. We can enter it, receive it, live it, be citizens of it, suffer for it.
Today! Today, the future hangs in the balance. We can tip the balance.
If we trust Jesus, if we follow his way, if we believe the impossible is possible at all levels of life – personal, public, work, home, government, international – then our decisions and actions and choices will steer things in one direction. If we believe that this way is stupid, irrational, too hard, or just not pleasing to us, we will do all the things that create a different future that looks very like today’s world of misery and greed.
We have the warning that if we don’t live life Jesus’ way with urgency and hope and love and faith our future is bleak.
We have the promise that when we fervently follow Jesus we will be empowered to shape a bright new future. We live lives that matter and make a difference. All of us.
When we seek the kingdom first and foremost above all other things, then we have nothing to worry about. Jesus promises this. Matthew 6:33 says it all: ‘Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.’
So seek the kingdom diligently. Seek the party diligently. Seek God’s dream diligently. Seek it with passion. Seek it with eagerness. Pray for it earnestly. Welcome it with your whole heart. Embrace it. Receive it.
The future is now. If you want it.