I Timothy 6:13-16 ” In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no-one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might for ever. Amen.”
Every Christian secretly imagines that if he were sitting under a certain blessed ministry week by week his whole relationship with God would be revolutionised. He recollects a ministry he once had, maybe when he was a student, or he dreams what it would have been like to have heard regularly Jonathan Edwards, and he excuses his own coldness of heart and disobediences, pleading, “I have cause for my luke-warmness. The fault is not mine. It lies in the ministry I now hear.” Yet we must acknowledge that our lives have been touched by men and women full of the Spirit of Jesus Christ who themselves sat under the most uninspiring ministries. The reason for their influential lives was not their own preachers. Neither is the weakness in our own souls to be laid to the door of our ministers.
Or again, some Christian women think of the blessedness of their friends who are married to fine believers. “How I would work for Jesus Christ if my husband and I were joined in faith!” such a woman might say to herself. Yet we all know godly women who are not equally yoked to believers who far outstretch others who are married in the Lord in such matters as their love of God, energy and creativity in serving him.
Or maybe we think in terms of friendship and what a brother or sister would mean to us who would pray for us, or call, or write us a letter and give us the best advice on every occasion. How different our own lives automatically would be, we imagine.
Timothy had such a ministry and such a friend. It was the apostle Paul. He sent Timothy letters with the soundest counsels. In this chapter Paul has just exhorted him, “Flee … pursue … Fight … Take hold!” Then, surely, nothing more is needed. An apostle has spoken personally to you. We will sit back and watch Timothy go into action, like an uncaged lion.
But it is not like that. It is never like that, and we are deluding ourselves if we are charging our own spiritual deadness to the failures of others. Timothy has the friendship and personal love and prayers of the apostle Paul. He writes Timothy this letter and appeals to him in an inspired way. It is quite moving. You would think that that would be all that was needed for transformed living. Far from it. Paul knows the human heart and its subtle excuses for defiance and its love of ease. So he addresses Timothy again about these very matters: “I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame” (vv.13&14). “I have told you your duty, but now I am going to charge you to act upon it,” says Paul.
1. The Apostle’s Charge.
An English sailor would have joined the fleet making solemn promises of laying down his life in the service of King and country. But Admiral Lord Nelson was not satisfied with those old promises on the morning of the battle of Trafalgar. Outnumbered, the British crews were preparing themselves for a day of life and death struggle. The possibility of death by cannon, musket fire, hand to hand combat or drowning lay before them that day. But there was one more final exhortation from their beloved Admiral before the cannons began to fire. He sent a signal up which was read by all the cheering men as they stood on the decks of their boats, “England expects every man this day to do his duty.” Nelson charged them to do what they promised when they joined the navy. That is what Paul is doing here. You know about these things. You have promised to keep the commandments. Now go for it! Not remembering it, and thinking about it, and believing it, but really doing it. Actually “Keep this command” he says, but even more, “keep this command without spot or blame!” He is calling for a total, unqualified and unquestioned commitment to his command.
Many people, almost constitutionally, seem to find certain of the commands of God their delight. The miser loves exhortations about the folly of wasting time and money. The aesthete loves the commands to replenish and subdue the creation. The athlete loves to hear that bodily exercise does profit. The sabbatarian loves the fourth commandment, and the Muslim despises graven images. But when Paul presents his command to Timothy he tells him that there must not be a spot on his entire life. Nothing he does must be blameworthy. “Flee … pursue … Fight … Take hold … and all this to be done without spot and blame.” Not to the best of our ability, or as we feel led, but wholeheartedly, leaving nothing at all undone.
You remember the great words of the Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount as the fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel reaches its conclusion? The Lord has been opening up what the commands of God imply, and he climaxes to these young men, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt.5:48). It is absolutely devastating. “I want you to be perfect in your life, and the standard for this is God himself.” Their jaws must have dropped at what he was saying. They were untried and inexperienced men. They had not preached a sermon. They had only recently left their boats, and now he is telling them he wants them to be as perfect as God.
The apostle John was amongst that group of young men, and he never forgot the words of his God. When he was an old man he wrote a letter and he urges those who possess the hope that they are going to heaven to “purify themselves as God is pure” (I John 3:3). How terrible that is! It is an utterly awesome concept. So often the standard for our Christian lives is what we ourselves once were, or what we have become accustomed to in our own personal lives, or what we see in other Christians. We protest, “We are as pure as the other students in the C.U..” Or we think we are up to our usual standard, or as pure as the average follower of Jesus Christ is. But John’s whole standard is so different – just as God is pure. In other words, you say to yourselves, “Just imagine if God found a spot on his own character, or just think of how Jehovah would react if there was something blameworthy in his life. Some of these things which we condone and excuse in our own behaviour – how would God feel if he found a blemish of evil on his beautiful face?” We know that he would eradicate it immediately. If he turned a blind eye to it then it would spread. If he went on living with it he would no longer be the ‘holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.’ God has this marvellous intolerance of sin, this holy reaction against anything that contradicts his goodness and love and purity. So there in John’s letter as well as in the Sermon on the Mount is this terrifying teaching that, “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” The God who condones nothing, not the least spot on his own glory, the one whom the light of his own holiness can shine through and through, revealing no ‘shadow of turning’, the God who is without darkness at all – he is the standard for me at this moment, and for you. We are to purify ourselves as God is pure.
So the apostle has laid out Timothy’s duties, and then he charges them to keep them, and to do so without spot or blame. When he talks about “this command” he could be referring to more than just these immediate exhortations, he could be also embracing all the commandments of the entire letter, or the whole law of Christ, the whole rule of faith, and all the Christian life described for us in all the Bible. We need not narrow it down because the same standard applies to all the obedience of faith – do it without spot or blame.
2. The Witnesses to the Charge.
i] The apostle summons two great witnesses to hear the words of this solemn charge that he has given to Timothy. The first witness is God the Father. “God’s eye is on you Timothy,” says Paul, and what a God! The one “who gives life to everything” (v.13). Who are you dealing with? The Maker of the rolling spheres! The ineffably sublime Lord. The Bible commences with a simple, but magnificent statement, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This is where life comes from, says the Scripture, a free and sovereign act of God. Once there was nothing, and then there was something, and that transformation was due to the action of the living God alone. There was no universal builders’ yard where God had a charge account, no slate mines, no china clay quarry, no veterinary laboratory with microscopes and test-tubes. Life came from the living God. The materials of life also came from him.
Think of the result. Timothy had been created with five senses so that he may know and take delight in God’s creation. In five ways he could sense that Jehovah has acted in the world. He could see the wrinkled, scarred, holy face of the apostle Paul. He could smell the fresh loaf of bread placed on the communion table. He could touch the parchment of this letter which Paul had sent to him. He could hear the voices of the church there in Ephesus singing the praises of Jesus Christ, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!” (Rev.5:12). He could taste the wine as he drank the cup at the Lord’s Supper showing forth the death of Jesus Christ until he come. All those things, and millions more, came from God. Timothy and every other Christian see, smell, touch, hear and taste God’s creation as if there were signs and signatures all over them saying, “Made by God.” The Lord gives life to everything.
God always had life in himself, but at creation God began to share his life and existence with pandas and kangaroos, hyacinths and stick insects, pelicans and larks – the “God who gives life to everything.” But uniquely God made persons in his own image and likeness. Man and woman were made in a different way from everything else. God formed out of the dust of the earth the shape of a man and he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living creature. And now he gives us life in another way. Each of our lives started with a single cell that came from the union of a sperm and an egg. Then that cell divided into two, then four, then eight, then sixteen, on and on to millions and billions of cells. God superintends the whole process. He gives life to everyone. It is he that hath made us and not we ourselves.
“A great scientist once pointed out that at a certain stage in this process one particular cell appears. This one cell, as it divides, will become a human brain. Everything needed to learn to talk, to write, to play music or softball is in that one cell. All we need to learn to argue or give up an argument; every ability to be surprised, thoughtful, or bored; every raw material for thinking, imagining, or planning – all of it is in this single cell that keep dividing and dividing until one day it becomes that trillion-cell wonder, the brain” (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., “A Sure Thing”, Bible Way, CRC Publications, Grand Rapids, 1986, p.33). God gave that its life.
How very solemn to speak to Timothy and say to him, Do you see what I’m saying, Timothy? Do you hear it? Do you understand the implications of this charge? Do you know that if you do, it is only because God has made you a rational man, and by divine illumination made you a spiritual man. Your life has been formed and sustained by the God who made creation. Your breath is in his hands – inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. It is as if God were rhythmically pressing down upon your chest. I charge you Timothy, in the sight of this God, who has given to you life, to keep this command without spot or blame. Should we not obey the God to whom we are responsible for every single thing we are and have?
Think of a man who has a pet dog. He pays costly medical fees to a vet. He buys the best meat to feed this animal each week. He dedicates a part of each day in all weathers to take him out for a walk. Then this creature turns on him and his wife and children at any opportunity, snarling, biting, tearing, destroying. How long will he sustain that beast? There will come a time when the screams of pain from his children and their fight for life after being ravaged by Fido will mean he will take that dog, whom he has sustained, and have it put down. So it is with men who live and move and have their being in God. There will come a time when he will say that enough is enough. Come away! Away to judgment! God can create, and he destroy. Timothy, in the presence of this God, do not fail to keep his command.
ii] The second witness is the Son of God, “and of Jesus Christ, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession” (v.13). Is Timothy aware that alongside him, day after day, is the Lord? “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt.28:20). When the people of God were in the wilderness the Lord taught them this reality by putting his home, the tabernacle, right in the centre of their camp, and when they moved he went before them in the symbols of the pillars of cloud and fire. “The Lord is with us,” parents would tell their nervous children when they faced the armies of their enemies. “We can never get away from him.”
It is a wonderful inspiration to have someone who is loving, wise and powerful with us. At Agincourt the English army were hopelessly outnumbered, but as they waited uncertainly for the day of battle to commence the king himself walked out of the darkness into the light of their camp fires and spoke words of encouragement to them group by group. “Just one more battle, men, and tomorrow night we will be thinking of crossing the channel back to our wives and children. Give me all you have from your great hearts as soon as the dawn breaks!” And the men gave him a cheer and looked forward to the next day’s fight with new anticipation. Nobles and foot soldiers, archers and knights in armour were all inspired with an infectious confidence, with the result
‘That every wretch, pining and pale before,
Beholding him, plucks comfort from his looks.’
And so the God who created everything has not kept his distance. He comes alongside us. He is not commanding the world by remote control, still less has he left it to its own devices. He is involved, deeply and intimately, in all the affairs of the world at large, and every person in it, but especially his own people. They are as near to him as a body is to its head, or as a branch is to the vine.
Timothy, says Paul, see who is witnessing my solemn charge to you? It is the Lord Jesus Christ, who “while testifying before Pontius Pilate made a good confession.” Don’t forget it. There are times when we will be intimidated by the frowns of men. Great servants of the Lord like Peter find themselves all alone in a hostile world, and at a fireside curse and swear denying their Saviour. So he who thinks he will stand in any circumstance should take heed lest he fall. Why did Peter fall? One reason was he was driven by the fear of man. Perhaps Peter had a certain kind of temperament which was very similar to Timothy’s. He hated to be ill thought of. Whatever company he was in he wanted to be on good terms and to be able to establish a rapport so that he could feel at home. He found it difficult to be alone and silent. He had to strike up conversations and enter into some kind of fellowship with whatever company he was in. He could not tolerate their contempt and hostility. He wanted to be well thought of. That is what led to his downfall.
Peter’s concern should have been to do what was well-pleasing in the Lord’s sight. The answer to the fear of men is surely to concentrate only on what is pleasing to God, and that that become our obsession and exclusive preoccupation. That is the purpose of the charge to Timothy. Many problems that confront us in the church stem from looking around at what the church thinks, and what other Christians think, as if there were no other eye upon us but the eye of man. But we have to deliberately take our lives right out of that context and place them before the only eye that mattes, that we stand moment by moment in God’s sight. I’m not going to act as the world wants me to act but as the Lord wants me to act.
Then there was one other reason why Peter fell and that was his self-confidence. “I will never leave you even if everyone else forsakes you,” he had told Jesus. There was no consciousness of his own infirmity, and the pressure and subtlety of temptation and the wiles of the devil. Peter was sure he could stand, though the Lord had made the peril spectacularly plain. So when we are involved in Christian work we must never let self-confidence grow to such a degree that we think we are invulnerable, because it is a primary rule in this great enterprise that a man is governed by his own sense of weakness. Peter’s tragedy was that one day he went forth on a great ego trip, and down he fell.
Remember Christ Jesus, says the apostle. Don’t look to men, but consider him. Remember how he had been brought before Pontius Pilate, and he was facing death, and a particularly long and cruel dying. There were so many pressures on Christ to escape, to explain, to overwhelm them by his eloquence and skill, to use the dream of Pilate’s wife, to set Jew against Roman and walk out while they fought it out. But Jesus spoke simply and faithfully, and then he was also silent. Jesus “made the good confession.” And you are not possessed with the spirit of the apostle Peter but of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. He was the faithful and true witness.
But not only does he sympathise with us when we are put on the spot, or even on trial for our faith, but he tells us not to be afraid. “When they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matt. 10:19&20). How true that was for Stephen when he appeared before the Sanhedrin and his life was threatened. How the apostle Paul experienced the same enabling when he appeared before kings. It was given to them what to say. The apostle could say, “At my first defence, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength” (2 Tim. 4:16&17). That Lord is with us too.
Pastor Wilhelm Busch once had to contact a top Nazi official, and he did so with fear and trembling because the regime was not well-disposed towards pastors. Instead of refusing to give him a hearing the official asked him into his office and listened to him attentively. Pastor Busch had rarely met such a sympathetic Nazi, and so he thanked him and said, “You have been so kind to me, now let me leave you with a gift of the message that has been entrusted to me: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.'” The official looked at Pastor Busch for a moment and then said, “You need say no more. My parents were Christians and they taught me these things all through their lives. But …” Then he picked up a pencil and on a white sheet of paper drew a line from one side to the other. “I know all about it,” he said, “that to gain salvation there is a line that I have to cross. But I am very near…” and he pointed to a spot just below the line, “and the decisive step has not been taken.” Pastor Busch tried to encourage him, but he said with an embarrassed smile, “My social position hinders me from taking that step.” Pastor Busch sadly left him.
He had gone to that meeting with that high official prayerful, and trusting God. His eyes were on the Lord Jesus Christ who had promised not to leave him and that it would be given him what to say on such an occasion. And so it was. That man’s social position would have been no help at all to him when he stepped into eternity, but step across a line he had to, as we all have to, from unbelief to faith, from death into life. There was a prodigal son who wasted all he had been given in wine women and song, and then, tending pigs, came to himself and said, “I must cross the line and return to my home.” Have you crossed the line? You know you must, as one made by God but ignoring God, there is a line to be crossed from sin to salvation.
Timothy, keep this command because God the giver of life and Christ the One who is faithful are both witnessing my charge to you.
3. God the Ultimate Author of the Charge.
Who is this God whom we are charged to serve and who is a witness to our service? The apostle inevitably turns to a contemplation of him and unfurls before Timothy his majestic might and glory:-
i] God is invincible, beyond all interference by earthly powers – “God the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (v.15). In one of his letters to Erasmus, Luther said, “Your thoughts of God are too human.” If that were true of Erasmus then certainly it is true of many of the religious leaders of our dissolute age. The god whose servants speak on the radio no more resembles the Supreme Sovereign of Holy Writ than does the flickering of a candle the glory of the midday sun. He is a pathetic god, whose will is resisted, whose designs are frustrated, whose purposes are checkmated, who wrings his hands in pious horror as he spectates helplessly what is going on in the world, who possesses no title to Deity, and so far from being a fit object of worship merits nothing but bored indifference.
The God of the New Testament is “the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords.” He not only has your life in his hands but the lives of all the kings and lords of the planet. If all the United Nations and all the inhabitants of heaven and hell should united in revolution against him it would occasion him no uneasiness. It would have less effect upon his unassailable throne than the spray from the waves of Cardigan Bay upon Pen Dinas hill. He that sitteth in the heavens would laugh (Ps. 2:4). This is no make-believe monarch, no mere imaginary sovereign, but reigning King of kings. All that he has designed he does. All that he hath decreed, he performs. “But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased” (Ps. 115:3). The first coming of Christ was as God determined – “in the fulness of time.” So too will be the second coming.
This is the sure resting place for our hearts. Our lives are not the product of blind fate, nor the result of capricious chance, but every detail of them was ordained from all eternity, and is now being ordered by the living and reigning God, even to the very composition of those who have come here tonight and the message they should hear. Not a hair of our heads can be touched without his permission. “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps” (Prov. 16:9). What comfort should this a real Christian! I charge all such, “Keep this command without spot or blame!”
ii] God is immortal, not subject to any changes. Time, death, dissolution do not affect him. Paul describes him thus, he “alone is immortal.” We have been endowed with immortality. He is endued innately with immortality. God has no mutations. There never was a time when he was not. There never will come a time when he has ceased to be. He has not evolved. He has not grown. He has not improved. All that he is today he has ever been, and ever will be. “I am the Lord, I change not” (Mal. 3:6). he cannot change for the better, for he is already perfect, and being perfect, he cannot change for the worse. He is utterly unaffected by anything outside of himself. He is the ever blessed God, even while his Son hung upon the tree. Improvement is impossible. Deterioration is impossible. He can only say, “I am that I am.” The passage of time does not change him one whit. There are no wrinkles and no grey hairs upon the Ancient of Days. His power can never diminish, not can his glory ever fade.
Our security is based on God’s absolute unchanging nature. We sometimes sigh, “I can’t hang on. I can’t keep going.” But our security is not based on any ability of ours to ‘hang on.’ We change. We have our moods, our up days and our down days. God does not change, and he does not vacillate concerning his promises.
Here is solid comfort! Human nature cannot be relied upon, but God can. However unstable I may be, however fickle my friends may prove, God changes not. Arthur Pink asks, “If he varied as we do, if he willed one thing today and another tomorrow, if he were controlled by caprice, who could confide in him? But, all praise to his glorious name, he is ever the same. Here then is a rock on which we may fix our feet, while the mighty torrent is sweeping away everything around us” (Arthur Pink, “The Attributes of God” Baker Book House, p.41).
iii] God is inaccessible. He is beyond the reach of sinful people . The apostle says that God “lives in unapproachable light” (v.16). Think of the men in Scripture who encountered God before being commissioned to serve him, and how overwhelmed they were. Ezekiel tells us after his encounter with the character of God, “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of God. And when I saw it, I fell on my face and heard a voice speaking” (Ez.1:28) You remember the same response with Peter in the boat, and Paul on the road, and John on the island. They saw his majesty. They saw his holiness. They saw his majesty. They saw his power. They saw his righteousness. They saw his grace. They saw his wisdom and beauty. The result was they fell before him, humbled before God. the greatest problem of man is his pride, and that is destroyed through coming into contact with God. God’s glory blasts through the wall of pride. We see ourselves as undone. We haven’t got it all together. We haven’t arrived. We are not ‘cool.’ We are setting out on our journey, and with this new knowledge of this God are beginning to realise just what that means.
He is not the indulgent old fakir who nods his head benevolently at all the sexual antics of foolish old men and lustful young men. He does not leniently wink at all the couplings which the nation watches for its entertainment. God is light and in him is no darkness at all. He dwells in light and no man has seen him nor can see him. Utmost reverence becomes our approach to him. “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of his saints, and to be had in reverence of all about him” (Ps. 89:7). When Moses would approach him, “put off thy shoes from off thy feet” are the words he hears. He dwells in unapproachable light. He is the source of holiness and the fount of holiness. Then let us seek that from him.
iv] God is invisible: “whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might forever. Amen” (v.16). How can we know God? Only by what he has been pleased to reveal of himself to us. These revelation are not comprehensive, but they are true. So our knowledge of God through prophets and apostles, and especially by the incarnation of his Son, Jesus Christ, are true. He has been pleased to make himself known. He is, and he has not been silent. He is solitary in his majesty, unique in his excellency, peerless in his perfections. He sustains all, but is himself independent of everything.
Such a God cannot be found by searching. He can be known only as he is revealed to the heart by the Holy Spirit through the Bible. God the Holy Ghost must shine in our hearts in order to give us “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus” (2 Cor.4:6). Then that is the beginning of our knowledge of him. We have to grow in our knowledge every day. The most life-changing thoughts you can ever have are on the nature of God. The more you know him the more you will want to know him. The better you know him the more you will want to serve him.
Dan DeHann was an inspirational Bible teacher who worked in Atlanta and was killed in a plane crash in February 1982. His life and ministry affected many people. He grew up in Michigan in one of the Reformed congregations, and when he was 14 years of age was converted. He said, “I remember listening to great sermons in church when I was a boy and going away wondering what God wanted of my life. In the wintertime lake Michigan would often freeze and I would spend Sunday afternoons out on the frozen ice. I would run out onto the lake, possibly half a mile, and sit all bundled up on a huge snowdrift that had been hardened by the wind. As I would sit there, I would often contemplate what God was like … Soon after my sixteenth birthday, a man told me to do a study on the character of God. not knowing where to begin, I went to a Bible bookstore to read chapter after chapter from books on theology. It was not long before I discovered a book called ‘Systematic Theology’ by Louis Berkhof. it caused me to wrestle with some issues, and, as a result, that carried me out of a mundane Christian life. I found myself hungering to know God. I would carry my new-found knowledge out to the ice and ‘pray it through.’ I say all of that to make this point: the deepest thought a person can ever have is his conception of God’s character” (Dan DeHann, “The God You Can Know”, Moody Press, 1982, pp.37&38).
See how Paul’s knowledge of God constantly moves him to serve and love this glorious being. True knowledge of the Lord is never cerebral, but quickly becomes doxology. Whenever he writes of God worship is not far away, whether he is praising God for his mercy or for his power. “To him be honour and might forever. Amen!” (v.16) he cries.
4. The Termination of the Charge.
How long must I keep doing whatever the Lord commands? “Until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time” (vv. 14&15). There was an annual cross-country race in our boys’ grammar school for the entire sixth form. It started at the end of a street about a hundred metres in length which filtered into a long lane going to the common and then across muddy fields and brooks for a few miles until most of us limped back, pink and breathless, nursing our stitches, to the jeering boys of the lower school. For that first hundred yards most boys flew like sprinters, but then the long weary race ahead took its toll of us and most fell behind. That is a picture of the Christian race. It goes on until the end of the world. It has lasted already 2,000 years and no one knows when it will end, but end it will at Christ’s appearing.
We don’t know what’s ahead of us in this new millennium, but we do know who’s coming in the future. The third great event in history lies before us. We have had two so far; the creation, and the first coming of Jesus Christ our Saviour. What we are waiting for is his second coming. With that supernatural event history will come to its climax. God will triumph completely over sin and misery, and the age of peace in the new heaven and earth will begin.
We are not looking forward to it as we should, and certainly as Paul and Timothy and the members of the New Testament church were. They cried, “Maranatha, even so come Lord Jesus!” Last week-end I was in London and staying with my daughter and grandsons. She had bought two new sacks of sand for the sandpit and I watched the four little boys take their shoes and socks off and play for hours in the cool clean sand. They delighted in it. But what would you think of them if they were offered Borth beach in the summer, and the acres of sand there, and they said, “No. We like the sandbox. We don’t know what you are talking about when you speak of miles of sandy beaches.” They chose the confines of a plastic sand-box. The life that begins at the second coming of Christ is like a sunny day on the beach – a day that never ends.
We are called to be faithful to the end of the world, because end it will. Nothing will change what is really important until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. So the gospel will need to be preached, the great diagnosis of man in sin will need to be made, and the great cure of healing and life through the work of Jesus Christ will need to be declared even on the morning of the last day of the world. There are two false ways of looking at the future:-
i] There are the politicians and the false prophets. They both fantasize about the future. They have their ten year plans, and election manifestos, and they declare that men will live happier and more fulfilled lives in better environments in just another ten years – just as long as their policies are followed. The Jehovah’s Witnesses prophesied various dates as to the time Christ would return all through the last century. They had, for example, a concerted campaign world-wide in 1925 sticking notices onto lamp-posts and upon hoardings all over Europe and America with this simple message, “Millions of people now living will never see death!” The words were everywhere. Actually in the next twenty years people all over Europe got more first hand experience of death than ever before. The politicians and the cults project their own fantasies into the future.
ii] Then there are, secondly, the fortune-tellers and horoscopes and the like, and they all have their predictions about your future, all of which are positive and upbeat, otherwise people would not bother to read them.
But the Bible says that the great hope for the future is the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that nothing fundamental in the human condition can possibly change until he comes again. His first appearing was prophesied, and the people waited long centuries in hope until he was born of Mary. So it is with his second appearing. We are living as long after the coming of Christ as Abraham lived before his coming. But I want to stress this point, that to look forward to it will never be a living reality to you unless you are involved in Christian service. If you are not working for the Lord Jesus then you are not hoping for the Lord. Only as you work and pray, “thy kingdom come,” will that hope become real to you.
When Wilhelm Busch had his first charge he went to the mining district of the city of Essen in 1924. He lived in the midst of the miners’ desolate houses and he obtained a modest house which he fixed up as a meeting-place. A few free-thinking and communist miners turned up – out of curiosity – and debated with him, some fine older women and handful of children and three young people were there. That was it – the reality of European industrial evangelism today. But the fact that Christians regularly held meetings there exasperated the whole population. Every meeting was disturbed. Gatherings were broken up. Windows were shattered. Teenagers played football with tin cans outside the building. One day they paraded with drums and pipes in front of the little hall and sang noisily.
One night it grew very threatening. A mob assembled outside this house and there was a terrible battering on the door and an object fell with a crash on the floor outside. Some of them thought it was a bomb. When Wilhelm Busch opened the door very gingerly he saw on the ground before him a large crucifix which they had torn off the wall of a Roman Catholic club-house and used as a battering-ram. We are not sympathetic with crucifixes ourselves, but we see the contempt for Christianity displayed in that action.
It was a dreary November night, and in the rainy dusk that crucifix lay there in that desolate square before him while behind Pastor Busch in this room this little group of elderly Christians and three young people and the children clung to one another in fear. “What will God do now?” he thought. Surely fire will fall from heaven upon these despisers. The first World War barely over and now this scorn at the message of the Lord Jesus Christ, and across the empty square that night came the echoing laughter of those who mocked this little group of Christians. They were making fun of them. “It will not always be like this,” Wilhelm Busch thought. “Christ will not always be the object of contempt. Today his power and glory are hidden, but one day he will appear. It is absolutely certain. The world that despises him will have to recognise that he is God and Lord. He will appear in glory. God will bring it about in his own time,” and on that evening as Wilhelm Busch walked home he really longed for the coming of his Saviour, and rejoiced in that promise, and never ceased rejoicing in it.
Until that time comes we are to keep his commands without spot and blame, through world wars, and great revivals and reformations, through barren years of spiritual decline and those periods of the missionary expansion of the church. Keep his command, O Church of Jesus Christ, “until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” How can this event possibly come about? And Paul here gives the all-sufficient answer to that question, “which God will bring about in his own time.” Two occasions, getting nearer and nearer. This time today, under the word, hearing of his glory and greatness, and that time some day in the future when our Lord Jesus Christ shall appear. And between now and then the church is to keep the command without spot or blame.
14 May 2000 Geoff Thomas