Let’s start in Proverbs. Solomon advises us in Proverbs 6: 6 through 8:
Proverbs 6:6-8 – Go to the ant, you sluggard. Consider her ways and be wise. Without having any chief officer or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.
What can we consider here to be wise? What does this scripture have for us? Well, point one: Ants prepare for an event that will come – winter – and we, generally, know when. Two: Ants make these preparations before winter comes while there is time. [Three:] Ants don’t have to be forced, directed or even told. They just do it. They get ready for winter during the summer. And point number four: There’s no place for procrastination in the life of ants – referring to the word sluggard. So, these four points are the outline for this presentation today.
Look with me in Romans 14:10 – Paul says:
Romans 14:10-12 – Why do pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written: “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
This sure event – judgment day – will come, just like winter comes. Everybody is going to have to stand before God. Notice the language: God swears on His own life that this will happen – something we can bank on. It’s like winter. It always comes, and it’s coming for every person.
Let’s look at another scripture. It’s Matthew 24, starting in verse 36 – Jesus talking here. He said:
Matthew 24:36-41 – “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.
Life is always going on. We make our plans. We get distracted by them. There were all those people – lots of them – before the flood. 2,500 years of earth history – so lots of people – all of them going about their business. Then, out of nowhere – or it seemed that way to them – comes their end.
I watched an interesting movie recently. It was called Don’t Look Up. It was a study of human nature – dark humor. They made fun of everybody. It was about a comet the size of Mount Everest coming toward the earth. Two scientists found it. Their calculations were confirmed. It would hit the earth at a speed that would kill every living thing – a planet killer. When they went to see the President – who knew what they were going to say to her – she put them off a day, because she had a political crisis to deal with – dealing first with her own self-serving interests, then with the fate of mankind. The calculation told them it would hit in six months. And that kind of sums up the whole movie. Nobody wanted to consider imminent death, so they started making preparations only after everyone could see it. That put a lot of pressure on the politicians to be always facing that kind of public scrutiny, but by then, it was too late. On an upside – and there were lots of bad things about this movie – language being one of them – at the end, there were some people having a meal. One of the young men asked an incredibly gracious prayer. The whole movie was worth it, just for that.
Continuing in Matthew 25, Jesus concludes His discussion of end time events, saying in verse 42:
V-42-44 – Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
I can’t help but take a side note here for those who make merchandise of the unwise brethren over this issue of when. You do not know when it’s going to happen. If somebody tells you that’s true – they know – don’t believe them.
What can we do to prepare? If we back up in Matthew, to the first verse, Jesus talks about that. He said:
Matthew 25:1 – “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them – no spare batteries, in our language today – but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ Something they should have done earlier. And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’”
Like winter, we know it’s coming, but we don’t know when. When we’re standing at the judgment seat giving account of ourselves, one really important question we need to know is: What does God want of us? Does He want to hear us tell that we have not sinned? Well, He’s really good at telling who’s lying and who isn’t. So, that’s not going to work. That approach would just seal the deal the wrong way for us. Does He want to hear about the great things we did to help others? Well, that’s all well and good – helping others – but God could have done all that without us – probably more easily than by letting us, in all our ineptitude and weakness, help Him. And that doesn’t account for all the sins we committed while we were helping others and before we started helping them – sins for which Jesus Christ had to die. The Father and Jesus take that very seriously. Look with me at this scripture in John 5:19:
John 5:19-22 – So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.
One reason the Father gives the responsibility to judge to the Son is because the Son will execute judgment the way the Father would. Jesus follows the Father’s lead. There’s also another reason, possibly, that we might want to think about. We can read that in Hebrews 4:15.
Hebrews 4:15 – For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
There’s no way to fake it with Him. Jesus was a human for a time, so He knows what it’s like to be in our shoes. He knows a manipulation when He sees it, too. He knows a lie when He hears it. He knows the truth when He hears that as well. There’s no way to earn eternal life. He’ll see all our sins and read all our minds and know that we all qualify to die, because of the sins that we have committed. So, what does He want? What’s He looking for?
It’s going to be a frightful thing to go before Him and know that He sees and knows all about us. At least, I think it will be. Jesus said, “Men love darkness, because their deeds are evil.” Well, yes, it will be, but that isn’t why Paul said it – to frighten us. Look in verse 16:
V-16 – Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace – not with fear or apprehension or dread – that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
God knows we can’t earn our way into His good graces – an interesting expression right now. But that’s okay We don’t have to. David explained it as well as anyone after he was caught in a terrible sin. In Psalms 51:17, David said:
Psalms 51:17 – The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
In times past, people offered animal sacrifices to indicate a need for repentance and that they had committed sins. David says that our sacrifices today are not animals, but a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart. That’s what God wants us to bring to judgment. He’s not interested in our actions, except that they show our attitude. He wants our hearts. But more than that, He wants our whole heart. He wants us to get on board with Him. He wants to be our Father and we His children. So, how do we need to prepare for that?
Some people think that because of grace, there isn’t any need to prepare for anything. But let’s read Hebrews 12:15. Paul says:
Hebrews 12:15 – See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God. Oh, you mean we can fail to obtain it? Something to think about. Then he continues: …that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled, that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
So, let’s unpack this a bit. This scripture points to a need to repent – to change from the way of this world to God’s way. But Esau couldn’t find it. It was hard to repent, because he planned to do something wrong, and then he planned to repent later. “I’ll sell my birthright, eat the beans, then express regret, and then ask God to give it back later. David said in the Psalms that God saves our tears in a bottle, but I think there might be two bottles – the one David mentioned and the one for crocodile tears.
It reminds me of the priest in the movie, The Kingdom of Heaven, who’s solution to the coming invasion of Jerusalem by the Muslims was, “Convert now, repent later.” It reminds me of a client I had some years ago. He was a friendly, sociable, interesting, Latino man – couldn’t help but like him. Probably 45ish, bilingual, an alcoholic. As time passed, I began to notice that this man talked a good talk about his efforts to stop drinking, but it never seemed to happen. One day, I brought this up to him, and he said, “My former counselor, who was also a Hispanic like me, told me one day, ‘Señor, I see that you’re trilingual. There’s English, there’s Spanish, and there’s – I’m just going to use the abbreviations here – BS.’” To repent, we have to want to quit badly enough we are willing to do anything to stop – no excuses, no deception – especially, no self-deception . None of that is going to fly on the judgment day.
When Jesus came, ushering in a new age of grace, He drove the point home when He said, “If your right hand offends you, cut it off.” He didn’t mean to literally cut off your hand. That would be a sin. He meant that if we really want to be ready for judgment – grace included – we have to be willing to do anything. That’s a repentant attitude.
I heard Jordan Peterson say once, “When we realize we’ve done something wrong, if we tell God we’re sorry, and ask Him to show us what to do, and we sit with it, He will show us and we will not like what we hear.” But, if we’re whole hearted about our desire, and make efforts to change, we are preparing for that day when we stand before God.
So, why is God so insistent on this attitudinal change? Well there’s a created being who was given a great power with God, but he turned against God. And to this day he resists God’s every effort. God does not want that to happen ever again. The only way anyone will ever be in His Kingdom is if there’s total unity with God and a track record of that. There will be no “repent now, then we’ll see how it goes” thinking allowed. There’s one door into God’s Kingdom and that’s Jesus Christ. We’ll be completely like Him in our hearts. We’ll watch God and follow His lead or we won’t be there.
I was watching a YouTube interview with Deebo Samuel – the 49er’s wide receiver, who runs like a freight train and as fast as a jet. One of the reporters asked him what was different about playing for the 49ers, and he said, “Before, everywhere I’ve been, there was always a power struggle – an ego thing – going on – a struggle among the coaches to have their way – and among the players as well. On this team,” he said, “all the coaches work together to help all the players be the best they can be. And the players have caught that attitude. We help each other on and off the field” – or words to that effect. As he talked, my mind flashed back to a scene in the game they had just played with the Cowboys. The Cowboys’ quarterback threw a check-down pass to the sideline. Once the pass was thrown and caught, I saw every 49er on the field moving as fast as they could to that place. All the really fast safeties and all the huge linemen – all of them – flowing that direction all together without thinking. They were a unit. They were working together. This is a crude example, but that’s the way it’s going to be in the Kingdom of God. The Niners have let go a lot of players that weren’t capable of having that kind of an attitude. And God is going to do the same.
But that will be how it will go in the Kingdom of God. We’ll be a part of the God unit. There’s a place reserved especially for each of us, we’re told. But unless we fit in, we won’t be there. Does that sound harsh to you? It’s not. It’s the best thing ever. If we can find that attitude, we’re going to inherit everything. Remember, God insists on this because He loves us. We were created to be in His eternal family – created to be in His eternal family. The way we’re created accommodates it. The attitude that is necessary to complete His creation of us is the only attitude that really fits us. We were created for it, and it was created for us. Everything else is complete futility. If that sounds harsh to you, you have some serious work to do before you can take step one.
Because a repentant attitude is something we don’t naturally have, but all are capable of, it’s a choice we can make. Because God has given us freewill forever. We get to choose to follow God or not.
What was that about the ants – without having any chief officer or ruler? Ants are not forced to gather. It’s what they do. Neither are we. God will not make any of us do anything. That defeats the whole purpose of having a free, but unified family. It has to be our choice.
One of the TV shows Elaine and I like to watch is Life Below Zero. We have a lot of media references in this message, don’t we? It a Nat Geo program. It’s been running, I think, for eighteen seasons. It about people who practice subsistence living in Central and Northern Alaska. They follow four or five individuals or families who live off the land – hunt, fish and gather. These people talk about winter and the need to get ready for it in a way that none of us ever have. They have all said, at different times, a subsistence life style in Alaska is no place for procrastinators. “No one will make you get ready for winter, but if you don’t get ready, this land will kill you,” I heard one of them say.
The biblical term for procrastinator we already read in the Proverbs – sluggards – would not do well in Alaska. That is because we are all free to be spiritual sluggards, if we so choose. But, if that’s our choice, then we may lose our lives with God.
Notice something John, in Revelation, says about the people of God – Revelation 12:10:
Revelation 12:10-11 – And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
Christianity today gives a lot of lip service to the blood of the Lamb, but that’s not all there is to it. There is also the word of our testimony, as well. We have to follow Jesus, whose testimony God Him killed. Not all Christians are going to have to die by persecution, but it’s clear that we must be willing to, if it comes our way.
We may remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the book of Daniel. The king threatened to throw them in a burning fiery furnace if they didn’t bow down to the idol that the king had set up. Instead of converting now and repenting later, they said, “You can throw us in your furnace, but we still won’t worship your god.” And in that way, they were becoming like God – unchanging in their values – “the same yesterday, today and forever.” That’s a quote out of the Bible describing how God is. Could you be strong enough to say that? How did those three Jews do that? Well, they made choices for God all their lives, until those choices began to define them. Worshipping the true God is just what they did – who they were – and they wouldn’t be bullied.
Another example comes to mind that I always had respect for. I saw a movie with Tom Selleck once, where he played an aging cowboy at the time when cowboys were no longer needed. He was well known and he had a good reputation. Someone from back east offered him a large amount of money to join the Wild West show. The cowboy was to dress up in fancy cowboy clothes and ride a well-groomed horse and play-act various scenes where he would shoot cowboys and do rope tricks. He put off making a decision until his prospective employer confronted him one day and asked him if he was going to take the job. And when the old cowboy declined, the man asked him why he was turning down a sure future. And he said, “Well, the way I see it, if I took the job, I’d be spitting on my whole life.” He wasn’t a play-actor. He was a cowboy. How about you? Are you the real deal?
There was an occasion where some people reminded Jesus of some Jews who were killed by Pilate in the temple and asked Him if these people were being punished by God for their wickedness? Jesus’ answer had everything to do with spiritual preparedness. He said in Luke 13:2:
Luke 13:2-3 – Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
Spiritual preparedness is about a repentant spirit at all times. It seems that a big question God is asking us is, “How bad do you want it?” God’s Son gave His human life for us and He expects us, in like fashion, to be willing to give our lives for Him. If we don’t have to literally give it, then we give it by service and living God’s way.
Luke 22:33 – Peter said to Jesus once:
Luke 22:33 – “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” And Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know Me.”
Yet, later we see Peter speaking out boldly – so much so that he wound up in prison. Tradition tells us he was crucified in the end. God gives us the same kind of practice when we talk with others. Peter had to learn how to be brave. “By the word of their testimony they loved not their lives until death.”
I realize all this kind of talk flies in the face of those who preach the encouragement gospel and those who want to selectively hear it, so it appears that he had lots of practice at whole-hearted commitment before he made the ultimate sacrifice. Yet, for those who really want it, this kind of talk is encouraging. It comes not out of our minds, but out of the Bible. Jesus words – “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” – may well be some of the most loving words He ever spoke.
Let’s look at one last scripture. It’s in 1 Peter 4:16.
1 Peter 4:16-17 – Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God…. We’ve talked of judgment day when Christ returns, and yet, for Christians, our judgment day will come the day we die. Our period of judgment is now. The period of judgment begins at the house of God now. So, we’re being judged by what happens to us. It’s not a sentence thing. It’s a period of time where we prove that we can be faithful to God. Notice that the context Peter adds is the one that we’ve been talking about today. If hold fast to the faith in all circumstances, when we hear that trumpet sound, we’ll have been judged worthy by Christ’s blood already – a day that eclipses any trials we might go through in our lives. And what day that will be for us!