“I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
He was already an old man when I met him.
He had driven an ammunition truck across Europe, having seen constant combat from the invasion of Normandy until at long last the war had ended.
During the period of our acquaintance, his attention was almost exclusively focused on a fraternal order to which he belonged, though he proclaimed faith in the Son of God.
His wife, on one memorable occasion, challenged him, “Why are you not getting ready for meeting God?
If you were planning a holiday, you would make preparations.
If you were going to Montreal, you would pack a suitcase and make certain you had accommodations waiting your arrival.
If you were going to New York you would have your passport in order and make certain your tickets were in hand.
You say you are going to heaven, but I never see you getting ready.
I never see you pray; I never see you read the Bible.
Why do I never see you preparing for what is a certainty?”
His wife was blunt, but her question was legitimate.
If an individual says he is going to heaven, wouldn’t you expect that that person would give evidence that he was anticipating the journey?
If he has no interest in his destination, surely there is a problem.
After all, each of us is moving inexorably toward a meeting with the True and Living God.
Either we are meeting Him in repentance now, or we shall meet Him in terror after this life.
You have heard me say, “The statistics on death are amazing—one out of one dies!”
Death is inevitable, should Christ tarry.
It is what follows death that should give us pause.
Solomon cautioned that “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” [*Ecclesiastes 12:7*].
Though the Apostle’s words are specifically directed to those who know God, in the broadest sense they hold true for all mankind.
“We must all appear before the Judgement Seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” [*2 Corinthians 5:10*].
Only redeemed saints will appear before the Judgement Seat of Christ, but those who are unsaved must stand before the Great White Throne where they will receive eternal sentence.
We each will give an accounting to God for the decision we made concerning His Son and for the manner in which we have lived.
One of the primary tasks assigned to any preacher of the Word is preparing people to die.
Without apology, this is the purpose of the message for this day.
I propose to equip you to victoriously enter a safe harbour at the conclusion of this present life.
To accomplish this goal, I invite you to join me in exploring Paul’s testimony to a younger pastor.
*What is Inevitable* — “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.”
At the time he wrote these words, the Apostle was incarcerated in the Tullianum, or lower chamber, of the Mamertine Prison situated on the northeast side of the Capitoline Hill in Rome.
He was condemned to die because of his faith in the Living Saviour.
Few people know when they are scheduled to die, but all people know they must die.
The only exception to this dark knowledge is the fact that some will be transformed at the return of the Master.
Before we invest time thinking of the dark inevitability of death for the most, turn your mind to the Blessed Hope, the return of our Saviour.
John encourages believers to live in anticipation of the return of the Master when he writes, “Now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.
If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” [*1 John 2:28-3:3*].
Focusing on the return of the Master—Living in the light of His return—has a purifying effect in the life of the believer.
In the Word of God, we are taught that we are to live in anticipation of His return, at which time we will be transformed—literally, */metamorphosed/*.
“Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved” [*Philippians 3:20-4:1*].
The child of God lives with the expectation that the Master is coming again to receive His people to Himself.
At His return, those who have believed in Him, though they may have suffered death, will be raised from the tomb and changed into His likeness.
We who are alive will then be changed so that together with our beloved dead we shall be gathered to the Saviour.
Scripture teaches us to live in hope.
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.
And the dead in Christ will rise first.
Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Therefore encourage one another with these words” [*1 Thessalonians 4:13-18*].
The knowledge of His return is meant to encourage the people of God, and it is anticipated that God’s beloved people will encourage one another by referring to these truths.
I should expect that we would want to focus on His return frequently, and the more so as time moves toward that promised return.
This is clearly taught in the Letter to Hebrew Christians.
“Let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near” [*Hebrews 10:24, 25 HCSB*].[i]
Let me pause to remind you that we Christians are looking for the Son and not for signs.
Those individuals who spend all their time looking for signs will always be disappointed.
However, it is impossible not to note the conditions outlined by the Master preceding His return.
“There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.
For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” [*Luke 21:25-28*].
Our present situation appears to presage those dark days that must come.
Things look dark on the horizon of history.
It is possible that within our lifetime we will witness the last remaining superpower replaced by a red dragon.
This could occur momentarily because of the greed of the people of that great nation which has sold their future for immediate gratification.
Also, God has indeed made Israel a cup of trembling [see *Zechariah 12:2, KJV*],[ii] and increasingly it seems that all nations of the world are arrayed against that valiant little nation.
The nations have forgotten the divine warning that was given as a promise to Israel, “Truly, one who touches you touches the apple of my eye” [*Zechariah 2:8, NRSV*].[iii]
Increasingly, decent people who strive to be righteous are persecuted on account of their righteousness and compelled to adopt the attitudes of this dying world.
Entertainment has become almost utterly degraded to the point that it is not possible to be amused without sacrificing godliness.
In light of all these events, we must live in the light of His coming to receive His own.
I do not say that these signs are evidence of the proximity of His return, but they surely alert us to the need to be watchful.
Remember the warning of the Master, “Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.
It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch.
Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.
And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” [*Mark 13:32-37, NKJV*].[iv]
What must be kept in mind is that we see a promise which can be fulfilled momentarily.
However, death hovers near for each of us until the Master returns and gathers us to Himself.
We know, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement.”
We also know that “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him” [*Hebrews 9:27, 28*].
Nevertheless, until He returns we are responsible to continue to live righteous, holy lives.
And during this period as we await His return, we know that we are mortal, facing death.
As was true for the Psalmist we find that often we who believe cry out to the Master,
“You have made us like sheep for slaughter,”
“For Your sake we are killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
[*Psalm 44:11, 22*]
When the Old Testament saints spoke of going “the way of all the earth” [e.g.* 1 Kings 2:2*], they spoke a truth the dogs us to this day.
As I have taught so often, and as seems ignored by most of mankind, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” [*Romans 5:12*].
Every cemetery testifies to the sinful nature of mankind, for were there no sin there would be no death.
As one who studied the chemistry of life and who has peered into the molecular structure of the cell, I testify that the body is “fearfully and wonderfully made” [see *Psalm 139:14*].
We have fail-safe systems and back-up mechanisms designed into our bodies.