Years ago, my work colleague and friend Tim, and his wife Kathi, traveled to Vermont. They went to visit his mother and to experience the rich autumn red, orange and yellow hues displayed by New England's trees preparing to shed their leaves ahead of winter. I received a card in the mail from Tim while he was there. It's because of the photo on the front side of the card that I kept it.
While traveling along the border of Vermont and New York, Tim saw a historical marker pointing to Miller Chapel. Curious, Tim and Kathi turned off the highway and followed the road past William Miller Cemetery to the Miller Chapel. Beyond the chapel is the historical home of William Miller.
Having studied the Bible in depth, William Miller's notoriety came from decoding and preaching about an end-times prophecy. His enthusiasm for his discovery sparked a spiritual revival in the early nineteenth century.
Miller's interpretation of the 2300-day prophecy in Daniel 8 led Miller and many followers to believe that Jesus would return to earth in a glorious Second Advent sometime in 1843. The year passed without Jesus' return.
Using better calculations, Miller and others who also expected Jesus' soon return assured themselves that Christ would return on October 22, 1844. On that date many of Miller's followers gathered on a rock formation on Miller's farm with their eyes focused on the eastern horizon. Their excitement turned to disappointment when the day passed without Jesus appearing.
Tim isn't a Seventh-day Adventist. I am. As he toured the Miller Farm, Tim learned that a small number of those disappointed Millerites, as they were called, continued to believe in Jesus' soon return. Instead of continuing to set dates for the Second Coming, they emphasized spreading the promise of the Second Advent to the world. They called themselves "Adventists." About 20-years later, a group of these Adventists who had re-discovered the biblical Sabbath formed the Seventh-day Adventist church.
Tim guessed I'd recognize his brief intersection with Adventist history at the site of what church historians now call "The Great Disappointment." On the front of the card Tim sent to me is a photo of that rock formation on Miller's farm where the Millerites waited for Jesus 179 years ago this month. The rock became known as "Ascension Rock."
Since that time, Seventh-day Adventists have come to recognize themselves in Jesus' Parable of the Ten Virgins recorded in Matthew 25. We prefer to identify with the five wise virgins who, in careful preparation, filled their lamps with enough oil to keep the flame burning until the Bridegroom came to lead them into the wedding feast. The oil represents the Holy Sprint, and the light represents the righteousness of Jesus. The wedding feast is a symbolic representation of Jesus' Second Coming. The five foolish virgins who ran out of oil represent Christians who have become complacent about their faith and are not prepared to meet Jesus. The foolish virgins represent casual Christians, some who identified as Seventh-day Adventists, who will hear the devastating proclamation from Jesus, "I do not know you."
There is danger in resting in the idea that we have enough of the Holy Spirit. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins is the first in a trilogy of parables told by Jesus to avoid the next Great Disappointment. However, in the next Great Disappointment Jesus arrives and finds many professed Christians unprepared to meet Him.
The second parable tells the story of a man who gives his servants money before he leaves on a journey. Each of the three servants receives a different amount. The two servants receiving the most invest the money and double its value. The servant receiving the least, out of fear, buries his money in the ground. This parable is sometimes told to persuade people to put more money in the offering plate. Instead, consider the money as a symbol of the gifts we receive when baptized in the Holy Spirit. When their master returns, the servants are each called to account for their stewardship of the money (spiritual gifts) he gave them. The two who doubled their money are praised and rewarded. The one who buried his money is harshly reprimanded and cast into "outer darkness" where there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth." This parable is a ominous warning to church members who, out of fear, choose to hide their spiritual gifts, even if they only have one.
The third parable describes the gathering for the final judgement those who identify as God's people. Jesus is the judge, and describes Himself as separating them "as a shepherd separates his sheep from the goats." Jesus rewards the sheep with His kingdom for their compassionate service to the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and imprisoned. To Jesus, these are acts of compassion toward Him. In contrast, the goats are condemned to everlasting punishment in their failure to serve the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and imprisoned. Jesus describes the neglect of the needy as a failure to serve His needs. Jesus foretells a tragic disappointment and sad ending for those identifying with His church who do not bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit by caring for the temporal needs of others.
In these parables the message is clear--we must not become complacent in our faith to receive every blessing God wants to give us. Those blessings are poured out when we:
Receive the promised Holy Spirit in our lives and submit to His power.
Invest fearlessly each gift we receive from the Holy Spirit.
Bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit by engaging in loving acts of service to the people around us.
This is how we avoid the next Great Disappointment and receive every blessing Jesus wants to give us.