People really are in a hurry today, but I am not sure they really know why! The musical band “Alabama” sang a number of years ago a refrain that captured the thought well. It says: I’m in a hurry to get things done; I rush and rush until life’s no fun. All I really gotta do is live and die; But I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.
We have to admit it – we live in the days of the frantic rush. I admit it. I am exhausted many nights just trying to keep up – don’t you feel that way? I remember one of my friends used to burn frenetically with energy. His mantra was: “I will sleep when I am dead!” The funny part is, as a believer, he knew that wasn’t even true. Leaving this body isn’t about rest as much as it is about the fascination of a new life in a new location!
One of the things we are all painfully aware of is that the clock is running. We can see it graphically in our morning bathroom mirror. We watch things change around us – sometimes at a break neck pace. We lose dear friends to eternity, and sorrow for our loss even though we know this isn’t the end…
Did you ever walk through an old cemetery and look at the epitaphs on the grave stones?
Some time ago, a man was trying to trace his family origin. In the process of his research he visited several cemeteries collecting information from the markers. At one place he came across a monument with the following inscription: “Pause now stranger, as you pass by; As you are now, so once was I As I am now, so soon you’ll be. Prepare yourself to follow me.” Next to the marker, he noticed someone had placed a board with the following words: “To follow you, I’m not content; Until I know, which way you went!”
Isn’t that the truth? I wouldn’t want to face the end of this life without knowing what was going to happen next. Fortunately, the Bible is not silent on the issue. In fact, a hero of church planting and Apostleship offered us a great picture of the hope that comes from a secure day beyond the grave. Paul made very clear to the Corinthian believers that God has a future for those who know Him beyond just the physical life:
2 Corinthians 5:1 “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For indeed in this [house] we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, … 6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—7 for we walk by faith, not by sight—8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. 9 Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.
In Paul’s letter, he wanted to remind them that here or there, our lives are about pleasing Jesus. At the same time, our walk here is filled with days lived out while MISSING HOME. We live, as followers of Jesus, with the incredible and exciting reality that when we face the grave – MUCH MORE is ahead. Frankly, that makes us really different. Our clock isn’t set to the here and now – but to the Master of time. We live here because He has planned that – and we will move on when the trumpet sounds or when God summons us to the Divine invitation to graduate from time to eternity…
Key Principle: The hopeful mark of a believer is the statement of CERTAINTY about the future.
Why is that important? Because then truth of our eternity changes the lifestyle of our NOW. it is the ESSENCE of CHRISTIAN HOPE. It is a primary difference between us and the lost world – and it is SUPPOSED TO BE!
When Paul wrote the first letter to the Thessalonians, he penned out the earliest letter we have from his quill to this day. He was in his early to mid-forties in age, and he experienced for the first time the move of the Spirit of God in producing an inspired work – destined to be bound in the New Testament to this day. He was writing to those who earlier that year had come to Christ, after a very short time with them in which Paul was forced to move out of town by some trouble makers. The letter has five chapters, and the first three do little but explain what God was personally doing in Paul. Chapters four and five are the heart of Paul’s teaching, and reflect what God wanted to characterize believers. Paul outlined several imperatives:
1. Believers were to hear and obey God in the use of their body.
1 Thessalonians 4:3 “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; [that is], that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor. God wanted the church to be pure in behavior in direct contradistinction to the well accepted loose-living of the brothel filled Roman cities. In the first century, there were more than forty NAMED brothels recalled by writers and historians. FUN to a believer is living life to please the Savior.
2. Believers were to work hard, keep quiet and focus on caring for people, excelling at other-person centered guardianship of people:
1 Thessalonians 4:10b “… But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, 12so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need. Fulfillment to the believer is experiencing the joy of caring for others – not accumulating more stuff for the estate sale after we are gone.
3. Believers were to see life and death by new definitions.
Lost people were DEAD (Ephesians 2:1), and saved people who were in the grave were with the Lord in spirit (2 Corinthians 5) but waiting the resurrection of their body in the coming days. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of [the] archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. The future of believers is Heaven.
Believers, from the very beginning of the spread of Christianity, were to see fun, fulfillment and future in new ways. Paul didn’t only instruct it – by the end of his life he LIVED IT OUT as a model.
Here is underlying the truth for the believer: “The clock isn’t my Master – the Lord is. I walk with a certainty that the world cannot offer. We who know Jesus are certain that our life will count for something bigger than our century on this planet. We are certain that death is a means of conveyance and not an end. We are certain that there is both a purpose to our struggles, and an end point to our pain. We are certain of a real and intimate communion with our Lord – in a reward that is beyond imagination!
Where did we get these ideas? We got them from the Bible in places like 2 Timothy 4:6-8, where I would like to spend a few minutes. Facing death, Paul wrote these words of HOPE to Timothy:
6 “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
Can you not hear the HOPE in this man? Paul summarized his life as “I FOUGHT, I FINISHED, and now I have a FANTASTIC FUTURE!”
When I talk to people about preparing for this life’s end, sometimes the conversation turns to whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing to know in advance that you’re dying. There are advantages and disadvantages to either scenario. If you know it is coming soon – you have time to prepare. Many not to think about it for so long. They would prefer to simply “drop over” without having to dwell on it. We don’t all agree… but if the truth be told—we all know we are dying! The real issue is when not if! Human mortality is 100%. Funny how some of us live as though WE are going to be the exception…
Did you hear about the three guys discussing their obituaries? One asked, “What would you like folks to say at your wake?”
• One of his buddies thought for minute, “I’d like them to say ‘He was a great humanitarian who cared about his community.’”
• The fellow who had initiated the conversation replied, “I’d like them to say ‘He was a great husband and father who was an example for many to follow.’”
• The two nodded in agreement and looked to the silent buddy. Without hesitation he added, “I’d like them to say ‘Look, he’s still breathing!’”
The text of 2 Timothy was penned by a man who knew his days were severely numbered. He offers us several reasons to look squarely over the edge of death’s cliff and see it as a reason for HOPE SPRINGING UP.
Paul argued there are FOUR REASONS a believer has an unstoppable JOY and an overwhelming HOPE:
First, a believer knows his life has more meaning than the century of life on the planet:
Paul said it this way: 1 Timothy 4:6a “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering…”
The term to “pour out as a drink offering” is one word in Greek – “spen’-domai”: to pour out as a libation, i.e. (figuratively) to devote (one’s life or blood, as a sacrifice) (spend) — (be ready to) be offered. A priest in the Temple would approach the altar of hot coals with a container of wine. As a prayer or special vow was spoken the wine would be poured on the coals. The wine instantly evaporated giving off a cloud of smoke and a sweet rich fragrance. Even pagan Romans knew about drink offerings. They often ended a meal or banquet with such an offering. It marked the time to rise and move on as well symbolized the giving of last drop to glory of the gods.
That is how Paul viewed his coming death. It is as if he was saying: “The day is ended; it is time to rise and go; and my life must be poured out as a sacrifice to God.“
William Barclay remarked: “Paul did not think of himself as going to be executed; he thought of himself as going to offer his life to God. His life was not being taken from him; he was laying it down. Ever since his conversion Paul had offered to God, his money, his scholarship, his strength, his time, the vigor of his body, the acuteness of his mind, the devotion of his passionate heart. Only life itself was left to offer, and gladly Paul was going to lay life down.”
You and I who know Jesus have the privilege of consciously pouring out our lives in service to Him by caring for one another, and by reaching those who are so very needy in our world. Some of the needs are physical, and we can serve people practically and help them with temporal needs. Other needs are spiritual – finding God and learning to walk with Him. We can extend a hand to each one, and that is our offering before God. For that, we are not diminished – the impact of our lives grows GREATER with each person we touch. What’s more, we didn’t start the journey. Many great men and women of God were at it long before us – and it is possible that God has many more generations to follow after us.
My point is this: We are PART OF SOMETHING BIGGER than just a little club in Sebring. We are part of God’s church – His carefully chosen and blood-bought team to reach in love to a hurting world. We have a vast family that started with the disciples of Jesus from the Gospels, and has grown in number until now. Don’t let the world try to tell you that no one is left in our family. God has thousands upon thousands He has called to be a part of what we are doing.
• In a small village in Africa today, there is a huddled group who trust Jesus, and want to serve Him with their whole heart.
• We see them in Cambodia, where rural villages are being touched with the Gospel.
• Hiding inside during curfew in Cairo are small groups of Christians who are reading God’s Word and learning to trust Him for the days ahead.
On and on it goes: Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Mexico. Pick a nation and God is at work in some place that CNN will never go… and YOU are a part of it all!
Second, as a follower of Jesus, I know physical death is a means of conveyance, not an end.
Paul said it this way in 2 Timothy 4:6b “…and the time of my departure has come.”
Look at the word “departure.” (analusis). That word had at least four discernible usages:
1. First, it was used as a Nautical Term: This was a term sailors used for the un-mooring of a ship. When a ship would set sail, and move out of the harbor, people would stand on the pier and watch the vessel move toward the horizon. He was at the quay, ready to go.
2. Second, the term had a Military Use: When soldiers would fold up their tent and move on to another campaign, the taking down and folding of the tent invited the use of the same word. He was being folded up and readied for a new place.
3. Third, there was a Political Use: The term was sometimes used for the release of a prisoner from bonds. He was being loosed from the constraints of the warfare this side of Heaven. You see, our brothers and sisters who have gone home to Jesus are not only free from pain – they are free from their own SIN NATURE! Their ego is completely God-tempered!
4. Finally there was an Agricultural Use: When a farmer unburdened the ox and removed the yoke it was a kind of “loosing” that was also covered by this word. The fact is, the ministry burdens of Paul were about to be removed from his shoulders. Death was not his penalty, it was his relief. If you have even sat with one who was suffering, you know the feeling very well.
In Hollywood, there are those who know how to make an entrance… I want you to KNOW HOW TO MAKE AN EXIT! When we leave this body, we sail away to another port. We pull up the tent pegs. We are a prisoner set free. We lay down the burden of this fallen physical life. We go home with God – untethered, unbound, finally tasting our promised freedom! This is another HOPE BUILDER the negro spiritual song writer reminded us with: “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty I am free at last!”
Third, a believer knows that life’s struggles are not in vain – and they have a soon-coming end.
Paul said it this way: 2 Timothy 4:7 …”I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith”.
Paul was able to face his departure from this life with confidence because he knew he had successfully “finished his race.” (v. 7). Paul looked back to the past and said, “My life has not been easy, but it has been worth it.” Look at the realism of Paul’s eyes on his history. He used three word pictures from the athletic world to make his point:
• I have fought the good fight.
The term “FOUGHT” is “agonizomai”: a descriptive word for a struggle contending with an adversary for the prize. We get the term “agonize” from this word! Romans had both wrestling and a crude form of boxing in their day.
The truth that seems to escape some of the “prosperity people” is that not only can life be tough, but after the Fall, the battle is inevitable. The world doesn’t play fair. The Devil has no interest in being gentle. The flesh rages against what is right within. Sometimes we must do hand-to-hand, down and dirty combat with each. It’s truly a fight, but finishing well is worth the effort. The struggles will honor the Master – and nothing will be more important when we stand before Him!
• I have finished the race.
The verb “teleo” means to end or come to the point. In commerce it was a word for “completed” or “paid in full”. In athletics, it was a racing term for a long race – like a marathont. Finishing meant, in this case, simply not giving up. Paul gives to believers a view from near the finish line. He’s nearing his big finish in life’s arduous marathon and offers to his younger protégé, an encouragement. He said: “Tim, let me tell you how I feel right now, just yards from the end. There is a burst of satisfaction that I’ve got going on inside me as I approach the finish line.” Here was a coach calling the play with seconds left on the game clock, and down by two – but with a great line! You can hear Paul telling Tim – “Finish the game! It isn’t over! Go for it and leave it all on the field!” That is where the satisfaction comes from. The half-hearted warrior knows the ordeal – the persistent one knows the satisfaction.
• I have kept the faith.
Paul looked at his own record, and concluded with joy that he had run by the rules. He hadn’t cheated, cut corners or covered over his bad performance. This is similar to the thought of 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. …Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize”.
One commentator (William Barclay) writes: “The one thing necessary for life is staying-power, and that is what so many people lack.”
A very famous man was offered a writer to help him complete his biography while he was still alive. He refused to move on the project, for he reasoned: ‘I have seen far too many men fall out on the last lap.’”
Paul could see the end; he knew he kept the faith. He did it by staying close to Jesus and living INTENTIONALLY inside the Word. He stayed at it until it was done right! He had taken no short cuts, and avoided no obstacles. He ran from no conflict – but faced the problems and opponents head on. Instead of circumventing the mountains, he climbed them. He weathered the storms faithfully. Moses prayed for God to “teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Paul did that. We can too.
Fourth, a believer awaits a stunning reward – and we didn’t earn it.
Paul said it this way: 2 Timothy 4:8 “in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
Paul looked toward his future and in essence said, “I can’t wait.” He looked forward to his reward, “a crown of righteousness.” (“stephanos”: a VICTOR crown) used of competition and completion in sport contests. These were the laurel wreaths of the ancient Olympic style games – long before GOLD MEDALS were offered, The wreath had little intrinsic value – . Its worth came from the occasion and the hand that placed it atop the head of the victor.
“…the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award…” has an accompanying word in Greek, “monon”: merely — alone, but, only. Paul knows the ONLY real judge of this life is his Master, Jesus.
Heaven is not first about gates of pearl and golden streets. It is about the presence of the Lord. Jesus, “I go to prepare a place for you that where I am there you may be with me.” For the lover of God the presence of God is the ultimate reward. In one of his books, A.M. Hunter, the New Testament scholar, related a story of a dying man who asked his Christian doctor to tell him something about the place to which he was going. As the doctor fumbled for a reply, he heard a scratching at the door, and he had his answer. “Do you hear that?” he asked his patient. “It’s my dog. I left him downstairs, but he has grown impatient, and has come up and hears my voice. He has no notion what is inside this door, but he knows that I am here. Now then, isn’t it the same with you? Even though you don’t know or understand everything that’s on the other side, you know Who is there. That’s what makes the difference.”
Paul Azinger was a graduate of Brevard Junior College in Brevard County Florida. He went on to FSU before he turned pro as a golfer in 1981. He was named the PGA player of the year in 1987. Six years later he won the coveted PGA championship (1993). At the age of 33 he had a remarkable ten tournament victories to his credit. The very next year Azinger was diagnosed with cancer. He wrote of his experience. “A feeling of fear came over me. I could die from cancer. Then another reality hit me. I’m going to die anyway, whether from cancer or something else. It’s just a question of when. Golf suddenly became meaningless to me. All I wanted to do was live.” As Azinger faced the possibility of his own death, he remembered something that Larry Moody, a chaplain to the pro golfers, had said to him. “Zinger, we’re not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We’re in the land of the dying trying to get to the land of the living.” Azinger beat the cancer. He recovered from chemotherapy and returned to the PGA tour, but Job’s question: “If a man dies, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14) changed his life. Azinger wrote, “I’ve made a lot of money since I’ve been on the tour. I’ve won a lot of tournaments. But that happiness is always temporary. The only way I have ever found true contentment is in my personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I’m not saying that nothing ever bothers me and I don’t have problems, but now I’ve found the answer—the answer to the six-foot hole.”
Paul said it already in this letter, but in different words…”I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12).
Matthew Huffman was the six-year-old son of missionaries in Brazil. One morning he began to complain of a fever. As his temperature climbed, he began to lose his eyesight. His mother and father knew he needed medical attention so they placed him in the car and rushed to the hospital. As they were driving, Matthew was lying on his mother’s lap, and began to do something his parents will never forget. He extended his hand in the air. When his mother took it, he pulled it away and extended it again. Once again she took it and again he pulled it back and reached into the air. Confused, the mother asked her son, “What are you reaching for, Matthew?” Matthew responded, “I’m reaching for Jesus’ hand.” And with those words, he closed his eyes and slipped into a coma from which he never would awaken. He died two days later, a victim of bacterial meningitis. In six years of life, Matthew learned the one lesson no one can afford to miss in this life… know what the end is all about!
- Death is Inevitable (Hebrews 9:27 “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.) In order to live a life without regrets, we need to know what to live for. The world has it all wrong. They say you only live once so go ahead and grab all the gusto you can. Party hard, live loose because when you die, that’s it. That philosophy teaches that the only thing to live for is immediate satisfaction and gratification. It teaches that the highest purpose in life is to be happy and pain free. But the Bible paints a very different picture of life. In fact, we are warned not to love this world nor the things in this world.
- Death is impartial—It is no respecter of persons (The old will die, some young will die). To live a life of no regrets, we must learn what is important in life. We have to learn to trade monuments of man’s achievements for moments in God’s presence. There is a place where all this world’s goods will lose their luster. Paul lived with no regrets because he kept eternity in view.
- Death is often unexpected – We make material preparation (buy a good insurance benefit for the surviving relatives and sometimes buy a nice burial ground) but we must make a spiritual preparation! Death need not be a mystery or a loss!
1 CORINTHIANS 15:54 says “‘When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
I want to read again our short text for this lesson, but I want you to hear it in another translation – a paraphrase called “The Message”:
You take over. I’m about to die, my life an offering on God’s altar. This is the only race worth running. I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting – God’s applause! Depend on it, he’s an honest judge. He’ll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming.” 2 Timothy 4:6-8
Do you possess the hope that comes with Christian CERTAINTY? IF NOT, WHY NOT?
Paul used this language about death. Remember in Philippians 1:20-24:
“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. What does that mean?
First, it means that God has a purpose for us in this life – to walk with Christ. We are not floating on a rubber raft in the ocean with nowhere to go and no reason to be there.
Life has been described as propping a ladder against a wall, and spending all your years climbing it. Too many people will climb all their lives, only to get to the top and realize they were climbing the wrong wall.
Second, it means that in death a believer gains something. What?
1. We gain a better body – a glorified, immortalized, resurrected body. 1 Corinthians 15 says that in this present body of clay we’re subject to all the sorrows and tears that life deals out. Age, sickness, and finally death are the inevitable end of this house made of the dust of the earth. But in death and the resurrection we gain a better body, one that can never grow old, know disease, suffer pain, and can never die. No more cough, no more cancer, and no more consumption. We gain a better body.
2. We gain a better home – John 14 reminds us that Jesus is preparing the next dwelling for us! Paul is able to face his departure from this life with confidence because he knew where he was headed. His departure from here means his arrival in heaven. Paul knew without a shadow of a doubt where he was headed in eternity. Do you? Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians (5:6,8) “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord… (8) We are confident, yes well pleased rather to absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” Do you realize that the Bible says that you can know for sure where you are headed in eternity. 1 John 5:13, says “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (NKJV).
Death does not have to be a leap into darkness into the great unknown. “So like a prisoner awaiting his release, like a schoolboy when the end of term is near, like a migratory bird ready to fly south, like a patient in the hospital anxiously scanning the doctor’s face to see whether a discharge may be expected, I long to be gone – extricating myself form the flesh I have too long inhabited, seeing the great doors of eternity swing open …” – such is the prospect of death for a Christian. [George Sweeting. “Can I Die Well.” (Moody Jan/Feb 2003) p.70.]
3. We gain a better inheritance – Ephesians 1-3 reminds us that the believer’s place and reward is not here – it is in Heaven. Living for God on earth has its advantages now – a clean conscience, freedom, purpose, meaning, hope. But the full value of the Christian life will be seen in heaven.
4. We gain a better fellowship with Jesus – The Christian life on earth was one of faith, believing before seeing, but heaven works differently, for we see the Lord face to face.
“I’m Free” by Unknown
Don’t grieve for me, for now I’m free, I’m following the path God has laid, you see.
I took His hand when I heard him call, I turned my back and left it all.
I could not stay another day, To laugh, to love, to work, to play.
Tasks left undone must stay that way, I found that peace at the close of day.
If my parting has left a void, Then fill it with remembered joy.
A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss, Oh yes, these things I too will miss.
Be not burdened with times of sorrow, I wish you the sunshine of tomorrow.
My life’s been full, I savored much, Good friends, good times, a loved one’s touch.
Perhaps my time seemed all too brief, Don’t lengthen it now with undue grief.
Lift up your hearts and peace to thee, God wanted me now; He set me free.