”Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” – James 4:14
“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” – 1 John 3:1-2
Statistics that I have come across estimate that anywhere between 150,000 and 200,000 people die each and every day. The problem with quoting statistics such as this is that numbers of this size tend to be rather impersonal and most of us have a difficult time actually comprehending the magnitude of how many people that these numbers represent.
This fact has been brought to light recently with the passing of a number of famous people, including Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Ed McMahon, and even TV pitchman Billy Mays, but also in my own life. As I mentioned in my last post, our good friend Kathy Wilkinson went home to be with the Lord and caused me to ponder about our own mortality and how it relates to our understanding of the glory of God.
Well, a few weeks ago, one of my dearest friends in the world was hospitalized with what appeared to be a gall bladder problem. Ken Hankins, Pastor of Seven Lakes Baptist Church in West End, NC was my youth pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Madison Heights, VA where my Dad was pastor during my junior and senior year in high school. (Needless to say, we have been friends for a LONG time!) After a number of tests, the diagnosis has come back that they have found both pancreatic and liver cancer, both of which are very aggressive cancers, and the tumors are causing a stomach blockage which in turn has caused him to aspirate food leading to pneumonia. He is currently hospitalized in Charlotte, NC and when the doctors are able to get him stable and his lungs healed, they will send him home to spend time with his family, because there are no more treatment options. Please keep Ken, his wife and three daughters and their families in your prayers.
Ken has been a great friend for most of my life and I cannot think of a better way to honor our friendship than to honor our Lord by sharing the hope that we have in Christ. But in order to do that, we must first understand that to have a cause for hope, there must first be a cause for despair. Because of Adam’s sin (the theological doctrine of “Original Sin”) each and every one of us is born in sin (Psalm 51:5) and is an offense to God, who did not “set” the standard of righteousness, He IS the standard of righteousness. Everything He is and performs is, by definition, righteous. As the Almighty, Eternal, Holy God, He is totally sovereign over all or He is not God at all.
By the fact that He is Holy and Lord over all (whether we acknowledge that or not) He cannot tolerate sin in any fashion. Our nature is so foul to nostrils of God, He even compares our “righteousness” to “filthy rags” in Isaiah 64:6 (some have said that the term “filthy rags” in this particular verse could be translated as “menstrual cloths.”) If this is what our “righteousness” is to God, imagine what our sin is to Him!
God progressively gave us the law in His Word in order to exhibit the standard of His holiness and character (Gal. 3:24-25) and to illustrate that no matter how much we attempt to follow the law, we cannot meet the standard of holiness that He alone has set by His every existence and which is by definition, infinite. For example, if we lie to our child we suffer no immediate consequence. If we lie to our spouse, we sleep on the couch! If we lie to our employer, we get fired. If we lie to the government, we commit perjury and could go to prison. It is the same sin in each case, but the consequence is different due to the level of authority the one to which we lied has over us. It only stands to reason that if the one against whom we have sinned is the infinite standard, there must be an infinite consequence. This is why hell is not only reasonable it is assured for all those who do not measure up to God’s infinite standard. (Rev. 21:8)
It is at this point that many object and say “Well, my god would never send someone to hell. He is a god of love.” And they are absolutely correct, because their “god” does not exist and they have in fact violated the second commandment (Exodus 20:4). They have fashioned a “god” in their own image instead of acknowledging that they were created in the true God’s image.
What they do not realize is that through the progressive revelation of God’s character through the Scriptures, God has revealed that He is a God of justice and holiness (Gen. 17:1; Ps. 62:11; Jer. 32:17; Mat. 19:26; Rev. 1:8, Heb. 1:13; I Pet. 1:15-16; I John 3:3, 5; Rev. 15:4) and because He is just and holy, His character demands that sin must be punished. Since He is perfect by nature, He will not by fiat just forgive us. In fact, if He were to just forgive by fiat, He would be denying his own nature and that is not possible. There must be retribution.
God has laid out the case against us. In our natural state, we are dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1b). This means we have no ability to come to God in and of ourselves. A dead man cannot act on anything by his own will. While we have the free will to choose our own particular means of sin, when it comes to salvation, our spirit is dead and is totally unable to make the right choice.
So there is only one verdict for us as lawbreakers. Guilty as charged and an infinite trespass, demands an infinite restitution. Only infinite punishment could be the sentence for our infinite transgression. The Bible is clear that the wrath of God abides on the children of disobedience. (Jn. 3:36, Rom. 1:18, Eph. 5:6, Col. 3:6, Rev. 14:10, Rev. 14:19, Rev.15:1, Rev.15:7, Rev.16:1)
So where is the hope?
It is here that the infinite, sovereign God of the universe implemented His perfect plan of redemption that He set in motion before the foundation of the world itself. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, born of a virgin (the sin nature is passed through the father), lived a sinless life, took on Himself the infinite punishment of all of our sin. Through the cross of Calvary, Jesus, the one who knew no sin, became the sin offering for us (I Cor. 5:21).
What does it take to satisfy the wrath of God? Only a perfect, infinite sacrifice, meaning that only God Himself could pay that price, which is exactly what took place at Calvary. What does it take to become a part of Christ’s reward? Repentance, which is a total forsaking of our sin, and total faith and trust in the work that Christ completed through the cross and His resurrection. (Eph. 2:8-9) Charles Wesley put it best when he wrote, “Amazing love, how can it be, that you my God shouldst die for me?” What amazing grace that the Creator would die for the created!
But the greatest news is
not only that He died in our place, but that three day later, He conquered death by rising from the dead! And now that He lives, we also can live through Him. (Eph. 2:1a) He has made us alive by His grace, through His gift of faith and not by our own works, so that we cannot be arrogant. As the redeemed we are the church, Christ’s bride and His just reward for His suffering! When I came to understand that as His bride, we are the reward for His suffering, it gave me a heart of gratitude for my Lord and Savior that I never had previously.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism states that “Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” John Piper has said that “God is most glorified is us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Our lives here are not about us. We have spent so much time trying to find our “purpose” in this life that we have missed the clear purpose in these simple statements. We are here for the glory of the Lord and for that purpose alone. Phillipians 2 tells us that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The question is when will you do that? Will you do it here and then eventually reap the benefit of the presence of God for all eternity, or will you do it later and spend eternity cursing His name in hell?
Pondering our mortality is a sobering exercise. It can lead us to despair if we have no hope in this life or it can lead to the peace of knowing that all that happens in both heaven and earth is for the glory of God.
Ken has been a faithful servant to our Lord and a wonderful friend to me. I pray for his comfort through this trial as well as for his “ultimate healing.” Mostly, I pray for Mary, his sweet wife as well as his three daughters. This will be hardest on them. Please keep them in your prayers, as they will be in mine.
Ken, you are going home soon and you will be free from the ravages of this pain and suffering. When you get there, be sure to go see Dad. I know he’ll be glad to see you! But most of all, you will finally bow on your knees and cry “Holy! Holy! Holy is the Lord God Almighty!” All I can say is what a wonderful place to be! My dear friend, “I’ll see you when I get home!”