Saturday, February 07, 2015

When the End Comes

So what will you do when the end comes? It’s a really good question.

Relax, this is not another regular instalment in my frequent “end of the world looms imminent” meme. I’m not thinking about the end of our current world order, or about the end of the Church Age, or even about the end of our own natural lives.

The quote comes from Jeremiah, actually, and “the end” has to do with the time that God’s judgment falls. That’s not God’s eternal judgment concerning where your or I will spend eternity, and it’s not God’s future judgment of the world and its nations. It’s the point in life, individually or corporately, in which things get so bad and so damaging and so pointless and selfish that God simply cannot fail to step in and demonstrate the folly of our ways in a very tangible, painful way during this life.

Israel in the Time of Jeremiah

Here’s the whole thing in context, as it applied to the nation of Israel back in the day:
“An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land:
the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction;
my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?”
This is Jeremiah’s question: what will you do? When people ignore God and kid themselves about the consequences, some sort of judgment must eventually fall upon them. God cannot be silent. He cannot allow his character and his holiness to be misinterpreted. He cannot be thought to be uninterested in righteousness. He is staggeringly patient, beyond any example of human patience, but eventually he must intervene.

Here in Jeremiah’s day everybody was guilty: the prophets, the priests and the people. All were participants in their own degradation and moral collapse.

Some people are liars; they have agendas and they’ll say whatever is needed to realize their own desires. Other people are yes-men, who “rule” at the direction of others. Such were the many administrators in the Third Reich who facilitated the annihilation of millions because somebody one level up gave the word, and such is everybody in our day who uses words like “That’s above my pay grade” as an excuse for doing something wicked. Many others simply enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season and cruise along without regard for the inevitable fallout. They “love to have it so”.

All three kinds of wickedness could be found in Jeremiah’s day and all three can be found today.

God’s Reluctance to Judge

I notice how slow God is to dole out to us what we richly deserve; how little he really wants to step in, despite his entirely appropriate anger over sin. He is truly “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance”. He says it in the first verse of Jeremiah 5:
“Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note!
Search her squares to see if you can find a man,
one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her.”
One man! One justice-seeking, truth-loving man. That’s all it would have taken for God to pardon Judah. This is certainly a step up from his statement to Abraham regarding Sodom and Gomorrah, where for the sake of ten righteous men, God would have delayed his judgment on those cities. Would God have delayed his judgment for even one back then? Maybe, but Abraham lost his nerve and failed to inquire further.

But what grace, what reluctance to punish, to look for any opportunity to pardon. He repeats this theme further down in the chapter:
“Go up through her vine rows and destroy, but make not a full end …”
Don’t destroy everything and everyone. “Make not a full end”. Don’t exterminate all possibility of repentance in the interests of justice. And again only a few verses later:
“But even in those days, declares the Lord, I will not make a full end of you.”
Even in the middle of your richly deserved judgment, God says “I will not make a full end of you”.

I was speaking to someone today that I love dearly. He has made a pretty serious mess of things and is deeply regretful. And I could confidently tell him this: The Lord is always right, but he is not looking to say, “Aha, I told you so! See, these are the consequences of your sin. Have a good look and cower in fear!” He is interested in changed hearts, not in making us grovel or in dishing out to us exactly what we deserve. Despite all the damage and havoc we frequently wreak in one another’s lives in the name of what we believe to be the ‘right thing’, he is looking to bless.

One Man

The thing is, God found his man. He found that one, singular, uniquely justice-seeking, truth-loving man that he was always looking for. He found him in the person of his own Son, and because of Jesus Christ, he can forgive all of us just about anything, provided we want to be forgiven and not simply excused or ignored.

So What Will You Do?

What will you do when the end comes? God really can forgive those things we think are unforgivable. We sometimes don’t think so, but it’s true:
“… do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
“Such were some of you,” he says. Such were … well, I was. I was several of the things on this list, quite frankly.

I’m not now, and you don’t have to be either. What will you do when the end comes?

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