A Great Finish
I heard a while ago about a young man with a splendid soprano voice who regularly entertained hundreds at events across the country and even received medals for his boyish soprano voice, but on a more recent occasion when he was singing to a packed audience, right at the end of the solo was the moment that his voice chose to break. So instead of ending his performance with “Oh for the wings of a dove” he was forced instead to sing
“Old Man River”? An unexpected finish!
My Sermon today, which I have entitled, “A GREAT FINISH” is a word of encouragement to those of you listening, who feel that you cannot go on, and have nothing but fear for your future? I believe that there are some of you who like a tired runner in a marathon are feeling unable to finish the last mile, or the exhausted track racer, who feels unable to make the last lap? You have struggled with your problems and pressures long enough, you have prayed and fasted, tithed and sacrificed and yet you see no end in sight, no fulfilment of the promises, no icing on the cake, no reward for the just, no harvest for the seed sown. You are tired, and weary in “well doing” and you have been saying to the Lord “I cannot go on another day”.
Let me tell you that you are not alone, and that it is more than likely that there are many Christians who sit in exactly the same place today. I believe that God will push every child of his to such a point of breaking, for there is a method in such apparent madness, for God has a plan. However I am comforted in the words from 1Cor 10:13 which read “There hath no temptation (or testing) taken you but such as is common (familiar) to man:
but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it“.
God will not push you over the edge, but he will push you to your limit!
In Jeremiah the 20th Chapter, Jeremiah the prophet had a similar testimony. He had come from Tophet and prophesied in the hearing of Pashur the chief governor in the house of the Lord, that God would bring judgment on Judah and Jerusalem for their idolatry, but the judgement was not falling and nothing was happening and he was becoming the local laughing-stock. So Jeremiah decided he would “say no more!” Jer 20:v9
There have been many times in over 40 years of Preaching, when I decided that I would “Preach no more!”. Have you ever been there? Have you ever said: “I’ll pray no more, I’ll give no more, I’ll go no more, I’ll help no more” and so on.
Yet we need to understand that when life’s race brings us to this kind of junction on our journey – when we simply cannot go on another day, cannot run another mile, cannot swim another length, cannot bear another disappointment …. at that place, God is ready to step in, and sometimes I have heard him say to me, “preach just one more sermon” or “hold on for one more day”. And this is the place of real spiritual growth.
The Devil will try to convince us that our problems and pressures are unique and that God has never had to deal with anything like this before and all of these events through which we are passing have taken God by surprise and like us, he does not know what to do, and there can be no way out, no light at the end of the tunnel, and no possible solution in sight.
But “the Devil is a liar” and while he may not have been able to prevent your Salvation, (your being saved) he will most certainly try every trick in the book to destroy your effectiveness for God, and to block your God ordained destiny. I have seen this in my own life on many occasions.
Let me share with you a personal testimony.
I began my preaching ministry at the early age of Seventeen. As a young man, full of all of the youthful enthusiasm of Soul Winning, my heart was overflowing with expectation of “great things for God and great things from God” I preached the Gospel from house to house, sitting in with the elderly and reading to them from the Bible and Praying with them for their needs and their healing. I preached to the Children and even taught classes for Children in both Primary & Secondary Schools. Later I visited the Universities and Colleges both here and abroad, and held classes for Elders and Church leaders in Counselling and Evangelism.
From time to time, I faced opposition, even hatred, (and often from the most unlikely sources) but God gave me grace to shrug it all off and to carry on, regardless and relentless in my ministry of “Serving the Lord” and “Seeking the Lost”.
I learned that growing in favour with God did not always mean growing in favour with men? I saw fruit, more fruit and even much fruit, and the rapid growth of a Christian Counselling Ministry and a Bible School.
Riding high on the “crest of that wave” I could see myself set for greater things in God, and great things were indeed prophesied over my life. But after 18 years in ministry, I did not fully understand that rising higher in the Kingdom of God, could
only, and can only be achieved by dying by death. That the way up in Gods eyes, is down. Many live all their lives in the Church and never get to grasp this eternal truth. I thank God for the day and hour when it dawned on my soul that there had to be a dying in order for there to be a rising. Resurrection can only come after Crucifixion. Its the message of the Gospel and the Cross.
Now we know from hindsight that there is nothing pleasant about Crucifixion, and like Jesus himself, we may all wish that such a cup would “pass from us”.
At that time in my life and in my ministry, I was preaching to “hundreds” week after week, and travelling all over the world to do so. I regularly prayed that God would give me “thousands”, but in order to preach to thousands, one must have the ability to communicate to the minds and hearts of thousands. This I don’t yet have. And the first steps to get me there had to be taken, so God brought me down off of that wave crest, and onto more solid and more realistic ground.
To cut a very long story shorter, God took me away from the ministry that I had loved and laboured with for 18 years, and placed me amongst strangers in another very unfamiliar and often hostile environment. There, while it was possible to be part of a welcoming and friendly Church Community, it was not possible for me to Preach, there was no open door on that pulpit. Although my gifts were recognised and utilized, every fibre of my being wanted to be in the pulpit, as I listened Sunday by Sunday to other men and women Preach. It was possible to return to Northern Ireland from time to time and preach on special occasions at a variety of events, but the real Sunday by
Sunday ministry with which I had begun, was gone. So I made the decision that “I would preach no more”… believing wrongly that this was what God wanted, since it appeared obvious to me at the time, that it was HE who was closing the door!
But just because you cannot run another mile, or walk another step, does not mean that GOD wants you to sit down?
I had to die, die to all the selfish ambitions that I wanted for my ministry; die to all the plans that I had made for my life. Die to all the hopes and dreams that I had nurtured since I was a boy. Die to all the popularity and prestige of founding and running my own organization. So I asked God to “bury” me away, where no-one would ever remember me again, and where only those things done in HIS name would remain, and what had been done in MY name would soon fade away!
Let me read again from Jeremiah Chapter 20, at verse 9:
“Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire
shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing,
and I could not stay”.
Like Jeremiah, I too had this “burning” in my heart. You see, when we are “born again” into Gods family, the Holy Spirit comes to live within, and God had given me a Spiritual “Anointing” for Preaching many years ago, (and Gods gifts are without repentance, – they are Eternal, God cannot go back on his promises) and that anointing was burning and bursting through my heart, so that I could no longer keep silence.
The death or dying processes had been understood, so that now the resurrection could begin. God called me and caused me to “rise up again” and prepare for that ministry to Thousands.
And this is where I am today, this radio ministry is but a
stepping-stone to a greater listening audience. The Hundreds who listen week by week in this locality and are joined by more on the world wide web, will soon become a Thousand, and then two and then many more.
But this Sermon is entitled “A Great Finish” it is not about how you or I will run the race, but about how we will finish, because the Prize, the Awards are not given to those who merely run, but are given only to those who run well, and finish well?
So, what about the Finish?
In the Gospel of Luke Chapter 16, Jesus tells the story of two men who died, but only one of them had a successful finish?
The Story of the Rich man, and Lazarus.
The rich man apparently lived for himself only, and his reasoning included no thought of God, or of ever meeting God.
Are you like this man? Have you ever given any thought to what might be in the life hereafter? Some people have said to me, I don’t believe in all this life after death, I don’t believe in God, I don’t believe in Heaven or in Hell, and you Christians are just living in a dream world, not in the real world. Live for today, you might not see tomorrow! Here they are, these people who speak with contempt of the Creator and His Son, who don’t realize that they are living every day in the “grace and mercy
of God” – in whose hand is the very air they breath!
There are many people living just like this man: for their accomplishments, possessions, comforts, and pleasures, and with no thought whatever of an eternity ahead. So my question to you today if you are one of them, is: What if there is a God? What if there is an Eternity without ending? What if there is a Heaven, and what if there is a Hell? Just because you cannot
SEE God, doesn’t mean that he does not exist. There are many days when we do not necessarily SEE the Sun, there are cloudy, overcast, rainy days – and from dawn ’till dusk there is no sight of the Sun, but we’ve had daylight, and it was the Sun that was providing it. You don’t have to see it to know it is there, and you don’t have to see God to know that he was and is still there and that he will always be there. My Bible says that “the heavens declare the Glory of God and the firmament sheweth
His handiwork” Psalm 19:1
Look up, and look around you, and then honestly tell me that there is no Creator behind it all, that somehow or other it all just happened in a “big bang” and it holds together in perfect unity and in perfect synchronization and has done so for thousands of years …. and then you call us Christians, dreamers? I recon it takes more faith to believe in the nonsense of “evolution” than it does in “creation” … and if its alright with you, I’ll side with the wise, who believe and put their trust and confidence in God the creator.
So this wealthy, or rich man had no thought of God or of ever meeting up with God, nor of any reckoning or accountability for his life. Do you believe in an after-life, do you believe in an eternity? If you don’t believe there is one, and you find yourself unexpectedly there, what are you going to do. Unknown to this rich man, there was another life on the other side of the grave, and it most certainly was like nothing he had ever imagined?
So then Jesus paints the picture of that life for us.
Scripture tells us that when we die, we will die once and then face judgment (Heb. 9:27). As believers, as Christians, when we die, we’ll go to be with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8) but Jesus shows us here that the Unbelievers immediately face torment (Luke 16:23).
Clearly there was a physical torment, in that he thirsted for even a drop of cold water, to cool his burning tongue. Then there was the mental torment as he considered the family he had left behind. God forbid that his family, his brothers would come to such a place as this. If he had never prayed for his family in his life, he was certainly praying now? But Jesus shows that it was all too little too late! This was how he finished…. how will you finish? If you should find yourself out of time and in eternity today before bedtime, how will you fare in that place?
But there was another man in the story, called Lazarus, a beggar who lay at the gate of this rich mans house every day and he would have gladly fed on the crumbs from off the rich mans table but who got none of them, and the dogs of the street licked his sores.
Jesus said: “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and
was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: Luke 16:22
Of the Rich man Jesus says “he was buried” but of this man Jesus says “he was carried by the angels”.
The point I am making is that when our life, whatever our life contains, and whatever of our life remains, when it is in Gods hands, and when we have finished the race and can run no more, then God will give us “The Great Finish” that he gave to Lazarus. Lazarus was a poor beggar, but he finished up carried by the angels and laid in a rich mans bosom. Abraham was a rich man, and Abraham was the friend of God, and Abraham represents all the Old Testament believers who were saved through the shedding of blood, the covering of blood. Abraham speaks to us of Jesus Christ and all who are now safe in Him.
Abraham speaks to us of Reward, of Victory and of the Faith
that leads to Heaven and Home.
The point I am trying to make is this, that when we get to that place of dying, when we cannot go on, when we cannot run another mile, or walk another step or live another day, when we know we are nearing the finish, but cannot hang in there to the
end, THEN, THEN at that moment …
God will step in! Because – understand this, God does not want YOU to finish by your own steam, God wants to GIVE YOU a great finish. So that when the story of your life and mine is over, we cannot walk the streets of heaven in some victory parade and take all the credit – that we Found Followed and Finished the Course in our own ability and by our own strength; but rather that all heaven will look at us,
as we stumble in; weary with the walk, battered by the burdens; bruised by the battle; and some will not be able to walk in but like Lazarus will be carried in by the angels, but all still safely home … and heaven will gasp with praise and say
“This is the Lords Doing, and marvellous in our eyes”
All Glory to Jesus! Hallelujah.
And I will take my crown, and lay it at His feet.
NOW THIS FINAL WORD.
The apostle Paul writes in 2nd Corinthians 2: 14
“Now thanks be unto God, which always causes us to triumph in Christ,…”
When we finish in Christ, we will finish well. God not only wants us as individuals to finish well, but he desires that the whole church will finish well too. That which was begun in the Spirit will end in the Spirit, that which began in the supernatural will end in the supernatural: so that…
“That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:27
You see, the Best is yet to be. Will yours be, a Great Finish? Amen