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The End is Not the END
‘Britain has found a smiling face – don’t let it slip’ wrote India Knight in The Sunday Times. She described how the Olympics and Paralympics transformed an unfriendly and cynical nation. For a season everyone seemed happy and proud of their fantastic city. Led by 70,000 smiling volunteers there was an air of excitement, kindness, good-heartedness and goodwill. We were all in it together. We didn’t want anyone left out. There was a sense of community. ‘Multiculturalism’ and ‘disability’ became good words. ‘The Olympics showed that everything is possible: glory for those who were taking part and a glorious feeling of inclusiveness for those who were not.’ The closing ceremonies brought the Olympics and Paralympics to an end. But the point of her article was that ‘the end should not be the end’.
There is a line in the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: ‘Everything will be alright in the end … If it’s not alright then it is not the end.’ Way beyond its context in the film, these words convey a profound theological truth.
1. Run the race to the endPsalm 119:105–112
In some ways, life is like an obstacle race. There are snares along the path (v.110a). There is a temptation to stray (v.110b), and there is suffering (v.107).
The psalmist says, ‘My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end’ (v.112). He is determined to stay faithful to the Lord to the very end of his life.
How are we to avoid stumbling or making a mess of life? Wandering around in the dark is frightening and dangerous. The psalmist’s answer is that in the darkness of the world around, the word of God provides:
The word of God sheds light in the darkness: ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (v.105). It enables us to see the obstacles in our path and hopefully to avoid stumbling over them. Study God’s word regularly and he will guide you one step at a time: ‘By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path’ (v.105, MSG).
We need sustenance to keep going and God’s word is ‘sweeter than honey to my mouth’ (v.103).
We need wisdom when stressful situations and decisions come and God’s word provides ‘understanding from your precepts’ (v.104).
It is not easy. He writes, ‘I constantly take my life in my hands’ (v.109). We need encouragement to keep going and God’s word is ‘my heritage forever’ and ‘the joy of my heart’ (v.111).
God has been faithful and helped him. He writes, ‘Accept, O Lord, the willing praise of my mouth’ (v.108). He is determined with God’s help to keep going ‘to the very end’ (v.112b).
Lord, as I look back there is so much to praise you for. Accept the willing praise of my mouth for …
Thank you that your word helps us to avoid stumbling and making a mess of life. Thank you that your words are the ‘joy of my heart’ (v.111). Like the psalmist, I want to set my heart on keeping your decrees to the very end.
2. Pass on the baton to the next generationTitus 1:1–16
In some ways, leadership is like being in a relay race. Succession is key. We need to pass on the baton to the next generation because our part in the race is not the end.
The apostle Paul’s life changed when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. He realised in that moment that God had raised Jesus from the dead and therefore death (the ending of this life) is not the end.
He sees himself as ‘Christ’s agent for promoting the faith’ (v.1a, MSG). Jesus has sent him out to proclaim the message ‘getting out the accurate word of God and how to respond rightly to it’ (v.1b, MSG).
One day Jesus will return and that will be the end of the world as we know it. However, even that will not be the end. Paul’s aim is to ‘raise hopes by pointing the way to life without end’ (v.2, MSG). This amazing good news is the message that inspired and drove Paul’s ministry.
This is the foundation of our faith. This is the truth. We can be absolutely confident about our future because of this hope of eternal life. This is a hope that was promised by God from the beginning of time (v.2), and which we can be sure of because ‘God … doesn’t break promises!’ (v.2, MSG). This is the message that Paul has ‘been entrusted to proclaim … by order of our Saviour’ (v.4, MSG).
In the end, we have the sure hope of eternal life. In the meantime, our task is ‘unfinished’ (v.5). Paul gives instructions to Titus whom, like Timothy, he seems to have led to Christ: ‘His legitimate son in the faith’ (v.4). He left him in Crete with the task of straightening out what was left unfinished and appointing elders in every town.
Paul is coming to the end of his part of the race. But the end of his part is not the end of the race. He is passing on the baton to Titus, ‘so you could complete what I left half-done’ (v.5, MSG). At the same time he is urging Titus to pass on the baton to others by appointing ‘leaders in every town’ (v.5, MSG).
The key to succession is finding the right leaders. Paul gives a similar list of qualifications to the ones we have already looked at in Timothy. ‘As you select them, ask, “Is this man well-thought-of? Is he committed to his wife? Are his children believers? Do they respect him and stay out of trouble?” It’s important that a church leader, responsible for the affairs in God’s house, be looked up to – not pushy, not short-tempered, not a drunk, not a bully, not money-hungry. He must welcome people, be helpful, wise, fair, reverent, have a good grip on himself, and have a good grip on the Message, knowing how to use the truth to either spur people on in knowledge or stop them in their tracks if they oppose it’ (vv.5–9, MSG).
He contrasts these high-calibre, godly leaders with those who ‘claim to know God but by their actions deny him’ (v.16). These people under the guise of being ‘religious teachers’, ruin whole households. They do it for dishonest gain. They are liars, lazy, rebellious, mere talkers and deceivers. Their minds and consciences are corrupted. They are not convicted by their sin. They do not understand that what they do is evil (vv.10–16).
The task of a good church leader is not only to ‘encourage others by sound doctrine’, but also to ‘refute those who oppose it’ (v.9). This should not be an excuse for criticising and judging other Christians, or churches, who are slightly different from us. Rather, verses 10–16 show us the types of behaviour that church leaders are called to refute – for example those ‘disrupting entire families with their teaching, and all for the sake of a fast buck’ (v.11, MSG).
The ultimate purpose of this strong leadership is to protect the people of God from being blown off course. Paul’s opening vision of eternal life should still be in our minds here as it shows us why it is so important to remain ‘sound in the faith’ (v.13). The hope of eternal life is our goal, our message and our motivation.
Lord, thank you so much for the hope of eternal life. Thank you that this life is not the end. There is hope beyond the grave. Thank you that you do not deceive us. Thank you that this is your promise. Thank you that you have now brought it to light through the teaching of the New Testament. Thank you that it comes as a result of Christ Jesus our Saviour (v.4b). Help us to be leaders like those described by the apostle Paul. Help us both to live in this way and to pass on the baton to good leaders for the future.
3. Never give up hopeJeremiah 52:1–34
Sometimes the circumstances in our lives can seem very bleak. Everything has gone wrong. Darkness has set in. And yet … God never leaves us without a ray of hope.
Jeremiah had the unenviable task of proclaiming judgment. His name has passed into the English language as meaning, ‘a person given to lamentation or woeful complaining, a denouncer of the times, a dismal prophet.’ And yet … even the book of Jeremiah ends with a hint of hope.
In this chapter we read of how Jeremiah’s words were fulfilled in the fall of Jerusalem. This was one of the most terrible times for the people of God. Their king, Zedekiah, was captured, blinded and imprisoned (v.11). ‘The summary murder of his sons was the last thing Zedekiah saw, for they blinded him ... The king of Babylon threw him in prison, where he stayed until the day he died’ (vv.10–11, MSG). The temple was destroyed by fire, as was the royal palace and every important building (vv.13–14). Many of the people went into exile.
Then in 562 BC, in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, a new king arose in Babylon who released Jehoiachin and freed him from prison (v.31).
‘The king treated him most courteously and gave him preferential treatment beyond anything experienced by the political prisoners held in Babylon. Jehoiachin took off his prison garb and from then on ate his meals in company with the king. The king provided everything he needed to live comfortably for the rest of his life’ (vv.32–34, MSG).
This is the slight hint of hope with which the book of Jeremiah ends. It is not all over for the people of God. This restoration had actually been prophesied by Jeremiah in chapter 24, along with a prophecy that the exiles would one day return to the land. With this first sign of restoration the book comes to an end on a note of hope. It is not all over for the people of God. Something good happens. This is a foretaste of the return from exile, which was to take place in 537 BC.
This in itself was only a foreshadowing of the restoration and renewal that would come through the kingdom of God, with the coming of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, thank you that even in Jeremiah the end (the fall of Jerusalem and the exile) was not the end. The people of God survived and would return to the land, rebuild the temple and restore the city. Thank you that this is only a picture of something far greater. Thank you that Jesus proclaimed the end of the exile. Thank you that in him we have a new temple and a new Jerusalem. Thank you that you raised Jesus from the dead. Thank you that we have a new hope beyond the grave. Thank you that the end is not the end. Thank you for the hope of the return of Jesus. Thank you for the hope of a new earth and a new heaven. Thank you for the hope of eternal life.