I grew up loving the old “Twilight Zone” series, and remember the New Year’s Eve marathons that used to air on local TV. However, of the 150+ episodes of TZ, I think I’ve seen half at most. So a few weeks back, I discovered a new-to-me episode starring Burgess Meredith, called “The Obsolete Man.”
The plot of the episode: The setting is a nightmarish totalitarian state that has outlawed books and religion. Romney Wordsworth (played by Meredith), a librarian by trade, is dragged before the Supreme Chancellor (a Hitler-type, complete with similar speech patterns and gestures). Wordsworth is told that he has been deemed obsolete by the state and must be exterminated. During the cross-examination, Wordsworth argues for the rights of the individual and the importance of faith in God, drawing sneers and condemnation from the Chancellor. Finally, rather than plead for his life, Wordsworth requests only that he may choose the method of his execution, and that it may be kept privately between himself and his executioner. The execution will take place at midnight, in the librarian’s apartment.
Less than an hour before, the Chancellor visits Wordsworth, at the condemned man’s request. After noting the cameras and microphones that have been installed to broadcast the execution live, Wordsworth informs the Chancellor that he is to be killed by a bomb in the apartment, and that the door is now locked and cannot be opened. The final 20 minutes of both of their lives will be broadcast for the entertainment of the nation.
As the minutes tick down, Wordsworth reads aloud from the Bible, while the Chancellor’s sarcastic and arrogant demeanor melts into panicked pleading. When he finally pleads with Wordsworth, invoking the name of God, Wordsworth relents, and lets him out mere seconds before the bomb explodes. However, the Chancellor’s breakdown on live television, including his desperate pleas, have proven he is no longer strong enough to lead. The episode ends with the now-former Chancellor being brought before the bench, declared obsolete himself, and then dragged away by a mob of his former followers.
While this episode deals more frankly with religion than most TZ episodes, Rod Serling (the show’s narrator and the writer of this episode) pulls his punch in the final monologue, stating that totalitarian states who ignore the rights of the individual will one day become obsolete themselves.
But there was a truth hidden in plain sight in this episode, a truth that Serling’s individualistic final monologue couldn’t obscure: While the Chancellor despaired as he saw his life about to end, the quiet librarian was able to face his execution with peace. Why? Because he knew that this world isn’t all there is.
To be clear: this television episode didn’t present anything resembling a Gospel message. But it did reveal a truth that should resonate with us, especially during this “Passion Week”: if we hold to the promise of life beyond death, we don’t have to be afraid when the hour of our passing arrives. And that promise isn’t a vain hope in some unknown future, but a specific hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So, if you will permit me, I’ll fill in the gaps left by Rod Serling.
In the eyes of this world, Christian, we are obsolete. Washed-up. On the wrong side of history. Doomed to the rubbish-bin of humanity.
However, the reason “obsolete” men like us can have death-defying hope is because Jesus Christ died in the place of sinners to make peace between man and God. God’s righteous wrath against sin was poured out on Jesus, who satisfied the full requirements of the Law in the place of sinners who could never do so. Our condemnation was poured out on Him, and the acceptance that His obedience earns from God is transferred to us.
But not only that–Jesus was raised from the dead, conquering death itself. His victory over death becomes OUR victory over death, if we have turned from our sin and believed in Him as our Savior, Lord, and King.
So, if you are in Christ, you have hope for a future inheritance with God in Christ–an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.
No matter how the nations rage, no matter how the mountains tremble, no matter how our flesh and heart may fail–we are secure because God has promised life to those who are found in Christ.
Rejoice, you “obsolete” Christian–the slings and arrows of a perishing world cannot take away your hope. Again, I say: rejoice!
[Note: Photos used without permission under Fair-Use rules; I do not own any copyrights.]