Journey back with me two centuries to the beginning of the nineteenth century. If the networks reported on events in that first decade, the evening news broadcasts would have concentrated not on Britain or the fledgling United States, but on Austria. By 1809, the attention of the world would be fixed on Napoleon's army. His troops swept across Europe, dominating the headlines and the populace.
And yet, missed in the midst of his campaign were several significant births in England and America. The new century would see the coming of men who would change the worlds of politics, science, and the arts. But no one recognized the little tykes; no one had a clue as to their significance. What could matter more in 1809 than the fall of Austria?
But those infants would significantly shape the following centuries up until our day. These drew their first breath in 1809:
William Gladstone in Liverpool.
Alfred Tennyson in Lincolnshire.
Oliver Wendell Holmes in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Edgar Alan Poe, a few miles away in Boston.
A physician and his wife named their infant son Charles Robert. Their last name? Darwin.
In a log cabin in Kentucky, a newborn boy named Abraham Lincoln cried out with the same lungs that would issue the Gettysburg Address decades later.
These and others were born in 1809. Few of us could cite even one Austrian campaign – but these lives are familiar to us. Our world is different because of their lives.1
In a few months we will be only the second generation to see a new millennium since Jesus Christ, God incarnate, walked on the earth. Of course, some will remind us that the millennium REALLY begins January 1, 2001, but who cares? As the day draws nearer, increasing anticipation will resound throughout the nation and world. For some, anticipation will give way to anxiety. Will the Y2K bug create international bedlam? Will the Lord return? Will God pour out His Spirit in a mighty awakening? Will Times Square ever be the same?
Regardless of where you will be in the wee hours of the morning on January 1, 2000, I am convinced that this year is the best year to share Christ in the history of the church. In fact, the years 1999-2001 may be one of the greatest windows for the gospel in history. Why do I say this? Think about it:
• Apocalypticism is certain. In the modern era, interest in the return of Christ and the end of the world always increases at the end of each century. This will only multiply with a millennial change. Such concern and interest has already created a bevy of apocalyptic cults – the church should seize the opportunity to tell people of our blessed hope.
• The calendar date has Christian moorings. In fact, we will witness the new millennium because of His life, for our calendars are dependent upon Him. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention has produced an attractive gospel booklet which shares the gospel from the perspective of the splitting of time. NAMB also has a website which discusses the Y2K bug with a view toward presenting Christ.
• Speaking of the calendar, history in the modern era also encourages us. At the turn of the century God has powerfully moved in awakening in some areas. The Second Great Awakening at the beginning of the nineteenth century and the Welsh Revival of 1904-05 are two examples. We cannot put God in a box, but we can pray from the perspective of the past … what if God DID send mighty revival?
• Christians are united as never before to see the Great Commission fulfilled.
• Bold Mission Thrust, AD 2000, and other initiatives, along with an explosion of missionary expansion overseas, can unite the Church to touch the world.
• A movement of prayer has been building for years, coupled in recent years with a focus on fasting as well. God appears to be awakening many in the Body of Christ.
• The gospel still has the power to save, and the Holy Spirit is powerful to save. This fact alone is reason enough to seize the day!
Consider the dawn of the first millennium AD. Rome stood unchallenged as the dominant world power. From the Euphrates on the east to the Atlantic Ocean on the west, and from the Sahara to the Danube, the Roman Empire epitomized the word dynasty.
To the east, Palestine comprised only a tiny portion of those regions bound together by the fist of Rome. Augustus, the cynical Caesar, the one who demanded a census so as to determine a measurement to enlarge taxes, was declared a god following his death. In his day no one was more significant. Who could have noticed a couple making an eighty-mile trip south from Nazareth? What difference could a carpenter, a common working man, betrothed to a teenaged girl, make compared to Caesar's decisions in Rome?
Who cared about this Jewish baby born in Bethlehem? Could history be affected by such a modest couple?
History would care indeed. In ignorance, mighty Augustus served as an errand boy for the prophet Micah. Compared to the baby about to be born in lowly Bethlehem, the emperor was a piece of lint on the pages of prophecy. While Rome was busy making history, the One Whose life split time, by which we date our calendars, arrived. History had seen Alexander the Great, Herod the Great, and the great Augustus, but the world overlooked the arrival of the One who flung the stars into the heavens. History missed the coming of its Creator, but it was forever changed by His death, burial, and resurrection.
This month, we celebrate these on the last Easter of the 20th century. But will the church at the dawn of the new millennium miss the opportunity God has put before us? Or will we, equipped with the Word of God and indwelled with the Spirit of God, boldly proclaim the great gospel of our God? May history not look back on our generation and write of our missed opportunity. Rather, may history mark the dramatic impact of the church at the dawn of the new millennium.
1. Adapted from Swindoll, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life, (Portland: Multnomah, 1984), pp. 34-35.