New Year’s Eve December 31, 2022
“The End” II Timothy 4:6-8
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing. (II Timothy 4:6-8)
There is one pastor who influenced me in my ministry more than any other. It was the pastor of my childhood, Pastor Fred Kowert, from Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Pastor Kowert was stricken by polio as a child and only had use of one arm, but I don’t think it slowed him down at all. He was a model of fortitude and godliness.
Pastor Fred Kowert taught me how to prepare a funeral sermon. He preached one for a man named Lou Hales, a member of Grace in Oak Creek and he titled it, “On his Way Rejoicing.” It was based on the account of the Ethiopian eunuch who came to faith and was baptized by Philip. The text in Acts 8:39 says, “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.” Lou Hales, if I remember this right, was in life, and then in his death, always on his way rejoicing.
Pastor Kowert showed me that funeral sermons needed to be personal and applicable. The theology of sin and its curse, the pain of separation, the hope of Jesus and the gift of eternal life and the anticipation of the resurrection to eternal life are more than doctrines – they apply to a believer’s life.
Today is New Year’s Eve, a day about the ending of 2022. But I want to talk about another end. Just like Paul did. When I had my automobile accident in May, this card, from many of you, shared your prayers, concern and love. It was at my home when I arrived. I read the thoughts and the names. Thank you. But there was one – this one – where I couldn’t read the name. I have no idea who wrote it. But what they wrote I could read clearly. It said, “Don’t Die!” When I read it, I chuckled. I didn’t have a whole lot to say whether I lived or died that day – but God did, and He spared me and allowed me to live.
But when I read the Bible, it is quite apparent that the life that comes after this life, for a believer in Jesus Christ, is much better than what we have now. Paul, in those words to Timothy, spoke about the Lord giving him the crown of righteousness on that day of his death. That is much better than our own filthy rags. The end of Psalm 23 says this about the end, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Verse 6) You probably know the words of Jesus in John 14, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with you that you also may be where I am.” (Verses 2-3). In I Corinthians Paul would say of this glory, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (2:9) He would also say, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (13:12)
Though none of us knows when that glorious day will come – some of us might be years, even decades, away from that day. So, how do we live in this day? Paul talks about the days before that end as a fight, a long race and a call to live out the faith. The end is perfect but getting to the end is not so easy.
Do you remember Jesus talking about sowing the seed – the Word of God – and in three out of four instances the seed didn’t come to a full effect. He spoke about seed that was sown on the hard path and seed that went on rocky places and seed that fell among thorns. And in Matthew 13 Jesus gives the explanation about what He is meaning, “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since it has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” (Verses 18-22)
Reaching the end, intact, is not easy. One of our dear folks, just this week, reached out to me asking for my prayers. Life has been hard and the burdens have been heavy and when they looked at the year ahead and the challenges they would face wrote, “Will you pray for me, Pastor John, that I can be conformed more to His likeness, walking nearer to Him and serving Him in everyone I encounter?”
Paul was quite personal in talking about how he got to where he was late in his life. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the face.” Not easy. He had opposition to his faith most of his life. He had struggles on the inside and struggles on the outside. He confesses what was going on inside of his soul, “In my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:23-24) He fought the devil. He fought his own self, his own sinful flesh. And what was more, he had to battle against some in the church who opposed him. Inside and out. Easy? No. He could have quit. He could have thrown his hands up and said, “I’ve had it.” Many people do. Three out of the four seeds scattered gave up. Their end wasn’t what God desired.
But the end was good for Paul because everything that led up to the end was also filled with God’s grace, power and presence. I wonder if the words in Romans 7 help us to understand II Corinthians 12? Here’s a verse from II Corinthians 12 to make your own for this New Year, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (II Corinthians 12:7-9)
Paul knew that the end would be glorious. When he wrote to the Philippians he said, “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (Philippians 1:22-24)
What an end we have!! Jesus, by His death for our sins and by His resurrection for our mortality, brings us a blessed end. But until then we fight the fight, we keep the faith, and we finish the race. And we do this not by ourselves but by the sufficient grace of Jesus and the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
May God give us a gracious end to this year. May He give us, in His time, a gracious end to our life on earth. And may He give us what is needed till that day. Maybe someone will say of us, like Pastor Fred Kowert said of Lou Hales, “They went on their way rejoicing.” That wouldn’t be a bad thing to say!! Amen!!