Looking at a gold watch

Deadlines, Known and Otherwise

Read Luke 12: 16-21 to start.

Last week at work I had a deadline to meet. It was on a very specific timeline, for a large project that we were working on, and it had to be in by a specific hour on Wednesday. There was no wiggle room, no extension, if everything was not completed by that time, then the project would not go ahead. Any work done to that point would not matter, and be of no value. If we missed the deadline, then the project, or at least our part in it, would be over.

We didn’t miss the deadline, so that’s a good thing. It was challenging to get things prepared, it took some hours of work and did cause some stress. Deadlines are stressful, that is part of their nature. We’ve all had to deal with deadlines in our lives, in work, in school, in sports and other activities. This has to be done by a certain time, or it’s too late, and there is a consequence, small or large. And for the younger kids here who may not even have to worry about schoolwork yet, remember that even bedtime is a deadline of sorts.

Generally we know when deadlines are. For my work project, it was Wednesday at a certain time in the afternoon. For a test, it might be that you have to complete it by 2:00 pm. For income taxes, that time of year is coming up, you need to have your personal income tax filed by May 2. Normally it would be April 30, but that’s a Saturday, so they extended it to the following Monday. Some people are going to have a very stressful weekend at the end of April no doubt.

Some deadlines are a bit more flexible than others. After all, who hasn’t eaten yogurt that wasn’t a day or three past its best before date, or eaten a cinnamon roll that was best before yesterday? I did that earlier today, and no harm came to me. Of course, if you make a habit of eating expired dairy products or past-dated baked goods, sooner or later you are going to encounter mould and/or food poisoning. We ignore some deadlines at our peril.

But before I get to any further into my topic this evening I’m going to take us on a little walk down memory lane. Who here remembers playing outside with friends? For some of the children here, that might have happened as recently as yesterday, or even this afternoon, but probably it was not very long ago at all. For us adults, it’s likely been longer, perhaps much, much longer.

I remember as a kid playing with some neighbour kids. There was one game we played called “Walk” which, granted, is not a terribly exciting name, but it involved one person being “it” as is so often the case in these sorts of games, and that person then has to walk around the house twice. While the “it” is walking, and they are never allowed to run, or stop, just walk, the other people go and hide, but only until “it” makes the first trip around the house, because everyone has to get back to the base, usually the front step, before “it” completes the second trip around the house. If “it” sees them, or they don’t make it back to the base, then they’re the next “it”. Okay, may it sounds more complicated than it is, but it was a lot of fun for us as kids. We probably played that game hundreds of times, sometimes at our house, sometimes at the house next door, or at other friends who lived one street over, or other friends who lived on the other side of the hill. We lived right across from the Charlottetown Bible Chapel so sometimes we’d play it there, to change things up.

I don’t know how many times it was we played it, but I know that it was a lot, and we had a lot of fun. And I don’t know when the last time was when we played it, that was years ago. But there was a last time. And then we never played it again. Or at least I never played it again. I can’t say that my last time playing walk was the last time for anyone else or not, but it was for me.

Yes, there was a day when I went out to play with my friends for the last time, but none of us knew it. Not at the time, anyway. Everyone here who is an adult can almost certainly say exactly the same thing. It’s a part of life that things change, and things end. Opportunities pass, and then are no longer available. New opportunities also arise, different opportunities, but what you had available before is gone and lost forever.  

That’s another type of deadline, one that we all experience, the unknown deadline. Playing outside with my childhood friends had a deadline that I did not know about. And kids, I don’t want to spoil your fun and games, but the same thing will one day happen to each of you. One day you will go out to play with your friends for the last time, and you won’t know it.

In the parable we read to start, the rich man was up against a deadline that he knew nothing about. He thought that things were all good, that he was well provisioned for a long and comfortable future. He went to bed that night assuming that he would wake up as he had every morning before. He was unconcerned, he thought there was nothing to worry about, no more details to take care of. But he was wrong.

He died that very night, and all his plans and provisions were for naught. They did him no benefit, because he who dies with the most money, the most stuff, the most power, the most fame, the most toys, stills dies. The rich man came up against the deadline, his final deadline, and while he had all kinds of stuff stored up for this life, he had precious little for the life to come. His deadline expired, he expired, and it was all over.

There are some who would argue that, as the rich man said, we should likewise plan to eat, drink, and be merry, because we know not when we perish, and so we should enjoy life to the fullest. That was the philosophy of the Epicureans, who believed that pleasure was the chief goal in life. The actual philosophy is a bit more nuanced than that, and included the thought that overindulgence is a bad idea, primarily because it generally leads to suffering down the road. After all, if you eat or drink too much, you will regret it before long. Epicureanism was a popular belief for several centuries before and after the time that Christ lived on earth, and it’s not hard to imagine why. People like pleasure, and they don’t like thinking about their own mortality. The rich man in the parable represents each of us in that we all tend to want and to seek out the pleasant things of this life. But while enjoying life is not wrong, living as if that is the only reason, or even the primary reason, that we are here on this planet, that is a mistake, and ignores the key deadline of this life.

In Hebrews chapter 9:27, we read that it is appointed unto man once to die, and after that, the judgment. That’s a deadline that we all have in front of us. We all know this, or at least we all should know it. But no one here knows the day nor the hour of their death. No one here, nor anywhere else, for that matter, knows that deadline. Oh, some people have a better idea than others, and some people take measures to purposefully bring that about. You may see it coming a long way off, or it may be a total surprise. But until it has arrived, no one really knows. And when it does, then it is far too late to do anything about it.

That is a deadline that we certainly ignore at our own peril, because death is certain and judgement is sure. We know what the wages of sin are, I’m willing to bet there is scarcely a person listening today who couldn’t quote the verse in Romans that tells us this.

I likewise don’t imagine that there is a person listening today who has never thought about death, judgment, and the certainty of both. We may not have any idea when those will come, but we know that they will come, and that we had best be ready for them. We don’t know the time and date of that deadline, but we know that it is certain.

If you haven’t given much thought to this, or if you are not so sure about your eternal fate, where your soul will end up when you die, then I would implore you to consider that carefully this evening. While it may feel like you have all the time in the world, there’s no way of knowing how much time there really is. There is no time like the present to get ready, because when it comes to this life, we can only act in the here and now. Much as we cannot change the past, only remember it and hopefully learn from it, we can only plan for the future, we can put things in place that will affect the future, and so often we do, sometimes for good, and sometimes for ill, and many times we don’t even realize that’s what we have done until we see the results. But we can’t predict the future, we can’t depend on it, and we can’t act in the future. We can only act now.

Today, if you are listening to this, the deadline of eternity has not arrived for you. Tomorrow is not promised. If you are not certain of eternity, if you are not confident that you are prepared to face your creator, don’t wait for the deadline to come, do something about it now, before it is too late.

And it is not only your death that may cause your deadline to arrive. In Genesis chapter 6, verse 3, we can read there of how God decided that man was wicked and in need of judgment. No need to turn there, I’ll read the verse. 3 And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.

Those are words to take seriously. My spirit shall not always strive with man is a troubling thought if you are not confident of your standing before God. In the original context of course this was God in the days of Noah deciding to wipe the slate clean and start again, which is what we would see if we kept reading. We know that God sent the flood, presumably about 120 years after this, and all was washed away apart from Noah, his family, and the animals that were in the ark. It’s interesting to note that while Noah and his contemporaries lived very long lives, in modern terms, the maximum human lifespan is 120 years. The oldest person alive right now is a Japanese woman named Kane (KA-Nay) Tanaka. She turned 119 earlier this month. The stuff you can look up, eh? That’s the largest amount of time anyone might get, should they be exceedingly fortunate, to make the choice to follow God. That is the farthest extension, the longest time for which God might strive with one individual in particular.

We should not assume that we have 120 years, of course, nor that anyone else does. Hardly anyone even gets close to that. But regardless of lifespan, whether ever so long or tragically short, God’s spirit will only strive so long, will only wait so long, until judgment day. At some point, the day of the Lord as we have been reading about in Zephaniah, at some point that comes. When that day arrives it will be too late for any and all who have waited. That is a deadline which is coming, but no man knows the day nor the hour when it will. When Christ returns to gather His church to Himself, and when judgment falls during the tribulation which will start not long thereafter, then it is past the point when God’s offer of salvation is available to one and all. The deadline will be past, and it will be too late.

Now, for those of us who have already believed and trusted in Christ, we need not fear judgment or eternity. Frankly it should be a great comfort to think on that, to remember that we need not worry about what will happen when we leave this world. It is for me, speaking personally. I trust that it is for you as well.

We might not need worry about our own deadline, but we should not only be concerned with ourselves. I know people my own age, or younger, even, who have unexpectedly died, and who, at least so far as I know, were completed unprepared for it. That is a fate I would wish upon no one.

I freely admit that I am not good at sharing the gospel. It is not something that I do with any consistency or frequency, and while I make no bones about my faith, if anyone asks me I would most certainly tell them, but it is not a common thing for me to confront others about their faith, or more likely their lack of faith. But everyone around me likewise has a deadline of their own. I should be helping them prepare for it. We all should.

It’s not like there aren’t lots of people out there in need of Christ. There is no shortage of need, but there is a definite lack of good news being shared with those who need to hear it. The Lord compared it to a crop ready for harvest, as we can see in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 9. We read at verse 35 And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. 36 But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. 37 Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; 38 Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.

We live in an agricultural province, there are thousands of people in PEI who work directly in farming or whose jobs support that industry. Harvest is a concept that we should be more than familiar with. When crops are ready, you gather them up and bring them in. The rich man with his barns who we read about to start, he no doubt knew all about harvests. His final harvest was ultimately his undoing. He had gathered the bounty of his fields, and piled it up for his own future benefit, but never enjoyed it. His deadline came due.

Any harvest time is a deadline of its own. If you do not bring in the crops in a timely manner, there will be no benefit. Depending on the particular product, either the frost or the snow or the birds, bugs and animals will get it, or maybe it will spoil on the plant, like strawberries left too long. If you do not reap at harvest time, then it will be lost.

That is how we see the multitudes depicted here. First they are described as a vast array of people, scattered and lost, as sheep with no shepherd. Unable to save themselves, weak and weary, unable to sort out their troubles and their sicknesses. But instead of writing them off as worthless and beyond salvage, which is exactly what happened in the days of Noah, all but eight people perished in the flood, here Christ had compassion on the lost. He didn’t see them as past the point of no return, as being no better than trash, but as a precious harvest, ready to be gathered up and brought in.

Is that how we see the world around us? Is that how we see the lost? Not as enemies, not as others and outsiders, and not even as a mission to fulfil, but rather as being of great value. When we look at the folks around us as people for whom Christ died, then how can they be anything less than worthy of our attention, our effort? If we see them as perishing, then why don’t we help them? And if we see them as those that Christ came to seek and to save, then we must do whatever part it is that we can play in order to help.

A say part to play, but this is not play. It is serious, and it is work, hard work. In verses 37 and 38 we see the word labourer used. Not spectator, not pew-filler or listener, not even manager or planner. Labourer. It takes work to get things done, and it takes people willing to do the work. If obey Christ and pray to the Lord of the harvest that he would send forth labourers, we will likely find ourselves called to be included among them. If the harvest is ready, and it surely is, then so long as we are not completely blind to the need we must be willing, and be working, or else it is disobedience. I say this to myself most of all, because so very often I do little, or I do nothing, to share the gospel with those who are in dire need of salvation.

The time for harvest is not simply near, it is now. Do we see it? Do we recognize this urgency? The deadline draws ever nearer. There is not an endless expanse of time ahead of us, nor is there ahead of them. No, there is no time to waste, because we know that God will not always strive with man. Not only is life short, and judgment certain, but there may well come a time when someone who has heard the gospel and rejected it time and time again, when God no longer strives with that particular person. The Holy Spirit works on the hearts of men and women, young and old, but eventually He may stop. A phone only rings so many times until the caller hangs up.

There are many, many people who have heard the good news preached, who may have gone to church, or youth group, or kids’ club, or gospel meetings, maybe countless times, maybe for years, but never believed. They may have felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit, pushing them towards faith, directing them towards recognition of sin, acknowledgement of guilt, and realization of their need for salvation. But that prompting was delayed, dismissed, and ultimately ignored, and now it has all but ceased. Or maybe it has ended altogether. That’s not to say for certain that we can look at anyone and know that they are past the point of no return. It is not up to you and me to evaluate that. But there are people every day who pass their deadline. And while they may yet live and breathe, their heart has grown so cold to the message of salvation that they are beyond hope.

We do not know who is part of the harvest, and who is too far gone. We can look at people, and we can guess, but we have no way of knowing. We might look at a person, and see that they are flagrantly wicked, with behaviour so offense that no one would be surprised to learn that they are hell bound, and mentally we write them off, but we know not if God is done with them yet. We might look at someone else, someone that might be what we, what everyone, would describe as “good people” but inside they are cold, and they have closed and locked the door of their heart and the Holy Spirit’s voice is no longer heard. 

There’s one more verse that I would like to share before we come to a close, a verse about harvests and deadlines. It’s in Jeremiah, chapter 8. It’s not a long verse by any means, but it’s one that gets me right here (point to heart) every single time I read it. 20 The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. I’ve used this verse in previous sermons more than once. It’s one of those verses that sticks with you, or at least with me. It captures the feeling of being on the wrong side of a deadline, of being lost, of being too far gone.

As I said earlier, when I told the story about going outside to play with friends, sometimes we do not realize that a moment is over, that a window has closed, until it is long gone and in the past. Sometimes it is our own deadline, and other times it is someone else whose opportunity has been lost. Sometimes it is both. We may have had countless chances to share the gospel with another, and failed to act on any of them, then that person moved out of our sphere and our paths cross no more. I think of coworkers that I have known, people that I have worked with for years, I could have done far more to share the gospel with them, but I did not, and now they have moved on to other things.

There’s one person in particular, I worked with her back in the late 90s, and then I worked with her again more recently. We may have talked about spiritual things occasionally, but I don’t recall ever clearly presenting the gospel to her. Maybe she would not have listened if I had. But maybe she would have. I do not know.

I don’t want to lay the weight of the world on your shoulders and make you feel responsible for every unbeliever that you meet. That’s not reasonable, and it’s not possible to reach everyone. But if we do nothing, if we watch as deadlines come and go and we say nothing, do nothing, as the people around us pass into eternity without Christ, if we have not done what we could, then we have failed. If we are content to be more comfortable in this life than to work for the life to come, then for what were we called?

Christ has saved us, but before that happened we no doubt heard the gospel from someone. Maybe it happened many times, maybe many people spoke to us, shared with us, steered us toward Him, before we believed. Maybe it was only one. I was saved when very young, and the only person I remember clearly sharing the gospel with me as a little child was my mother. Would I be in a different place had she not done so? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But I had a long time to go before I reached my deadline, and I’m thankful that I never did. Many people do not have the same opportunities that I did, that you do. Let’s not squander them. We don’t know that the person we speak to next if this is the last opportunity that they may ever have to hear the gospel. We have no idea what deadline, or whose deadline, will soon come due.