Thus far in our Fall Campaign we have moved from “Faithless Fear to Faithful Courage” and from “Faithful Courage to First Taste of Victory”
Tonight’s group meetings will study Judges 1-2 about how Israel failed to fully claim the Promised Land of Canaan. Under Joshua’s leadership, they started out well, but then we see that after Joshua died, they didn’t finish well. Therefore “Finishing Well, or Not” is the topic I chose from this text for our morning lesson. Our Sunday morning lessons are done in concert with the evening group studies as fodder for reflection and discussion together as we continue looking at God’s plan for His people.
A teacher asked her 5 year old Bible class, “What do you have to do to get to heaven?” Several children answered: one said, “Trust and obey God,” another, “Pray and be faithful,” and one, “Love others.” The teacher said, “Those are good answers, is there anything else?” One little boy in the back raised his hand and the teacher said, “Yes, Bobbly?” He replied thoughtfully, “You gotta be dead.”
We may not like to think that, but Bobby’s point is spot on. Jesus said, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” In other words, Jesus calls us to finish well.
Finishing well, or not. What does God’s word tell us about those things? You may be surprised at just how much of the scriptures are devoted to encourage us to stay the course and finish well. In fact, all of the Bible shows us that in spite of our sinful condition and fallen struggles, God started this whole creation and He who began a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ! God will finish what He started. There is a beginning and there is an end. Just as everyone of us is born and all of us will die, unless Christ returns, Jesus tells us: I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. Page one of the Bible tells us about the beginning of this universe, and the last page of your Bible contains a prayer for Christ’s return and grand finale of created history.
Meanwhile, here we are, living in the midst of the passage of time, God has given us all we need for life and godliness, but we are not yet glorified and fully partaking of the Kingdom of heaven. Paul reminds us in 1 Cor. 15:50f that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Jesus, when He blesses the Sheep and casts our the goats in Matthew 25 says to those righteous ones who finished well, “Come you who are blessed by my Father, enter the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the earth.” In other words, we are not home yet. We are looking for a dwelling and a condition and the presence of the King of kings, something that is vastly superior to anything we can even imagine for those who finish well, in the resurrection eschaton.
For our lesson this morning, let’s begin by turning to Deuteronomy 31:14-29.
God knows Israel. He knows the hearts of His people. He knows the hearts of all people. God knows your heart, too. If God were to reveal our future and the future of our children, what would He tell us? I find it interesting that the ones God actually spoke these words to remained faithful. This demonstrates to us that if we would remain faithful and finish well, we must hear God’s warnings and heed God’s word with seriousness and reverent fear. Those who finish well, overcome their own tendency to take lightly the dangers of sin and the folly of falling away. Listen to 1 Timothy 4:1-2, 2 Timothy 3:1-8, and 4:1-5.
The entire book of Hebrews in our New Testaments is filled with 5 warnings of exhortation to stay faithful and not turn away from the living God. It appears to me that as much as we love and long to hear the message of grace and forgiveness in God’s word, we also need to hear God’s warnings of the dangers of turning from that grace and embracing this fallen world’s idols and sinful pleasures.
Notice that just after Paul wrote about His own finishing well, then he mentions another disciple named Demas in verse 10 of chapter 4 in 2 Timothy. What happened to Demas? He began well, but what happened? Where was his love?
Remember Jesus own words as he concluded His great sermon on the mount: Enter the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the path that leads to destruction and many go that way. But narrow is the gate and difficult the path that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Jesus, speaking to the seven churches of Asia in the book of Revelation exhorts each one to stay the course! Several of them, Jesus called to repent. Think about this: These are churches Christ is speaking to, not lost unbelievers. These are baptized members of the family of God. Jesus rebukes all but two of them. The two churches He does not rebuke, He exhorts to remain faithful and to overcome.
One of the great dangers we face today is that our culture despises correction and rebuke. There is within the fabric of our social order today an embedded sense of entitlement, so that you have no right to tell me I am wrong. If you look at God’s plan for His people you will see that a major part of that plan is correction and rebuke. That along with instruction and encouragement are all over the place in scripture.
If we would finish well, we must be open to correction and rebuke as well as training and encouragement from God’s word and from those He has placed in leadership in the church.
Ask yourself this question: Who do I trust enough to rebuke me? Which Christian leaders am I willing to allow to correct me?
Think about Peter as he was following Jesus. In Matthew 16 we read of where Jesus took the disciples to Caesarea Philippi and asked them: “Who do the people say that I am?” They answered Jesus that many say you are Elijah or one of the prophets. Jesus replied, “But what about you, who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus blesses Peter and then begins to explain how the Christ must suffer and be put to death. Peter can’t take it. He pulls Jesus aside and says, “Never, this will never happen to you!” Jesus turns and rebukes Peter with some of the strongest words in the Bible. “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men!” Peter is not getting paid here. In fact, if anything, Peter is supporting Jesus. But Peter receives this rebuke, just as he received the blessing. Peter may stumble and fall along the way, but Peter will finish well. Jesus even tells him so, and we can read about it in the last chapter of John’s gospel.
We can’t follow Jesus so that He will do what we want Him to do. We must follow Jesus and learn to do what He wants US to do and be ready to be rebuked and corrected along the way.
We can know this without question: Those Jesus loves, He rebukes and chastens. He said so. That should give us encouragement. The one who has the power to rebuke you and chasten you loves you more than His own life.
The gospel of Mark tells us about a rich man who came to Jesus. 10:17-23. He did not finish well. Luke 12:13-21 Jesus tells us the parable of the rich fool. He did not finish well either. Jesus gave up everything He had for us. He who was rich became poor for us so that we might become rich. Jesus lived His life giving Himself until at last He gave His own body and blood. The last words from the cross according to John’s gospel are these: It is finished. Jesus finished well.
Paul, who followed Jesus and gave up his big important position in the Jewish leadership, gave up his reputation as a leading Pharisee, gave up his legalistic righteousness, and wrote these words:
Brothers and sisters, let’s give ourselves to Jesus. Let’s give up running for prizes that perish, spoil and fade. Let’s receive all the gifts God puts into our lives with open hands and open hearts seeking to use them for His glory and the good of others. We to whom much has been given, let us take to heart how much is also required of us. Let us finish well this battle as we fight the good fight. Let us finish well this race as we run with our eyes on the one crucified and risen. Let us finish well this walk of faith trusting Him more than ourselves and keeping His words above our own desires and pleasures.
May God grant us the grace to finish well and receive a glorious welcome into eternal life in Jesus Christ.