New Year’s Eve
December 31, 2018
“The Final Hours”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)
It was 100 years, this year, that there was an end to World War I. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918, the First World War was over. 14 million people died – 5 million citizens, 9 million soldiers, sailors and airmen from 28 countries. In one battle alone, in France, one million people died.
Just before dawn, around 5 in the morning on that November 11th an agreement between the Allied forces and Germany was reached. At 11:00, about 6 hours after the agreement, the war would end. But the final hours, those last 6 hours, even though a peace had been reached, saw almost 11,000 soldiers meet their end. Though peace had been reached, the fighting continued. With two minutes to go before the bugle would blow, the last Canadian to die, Private George Lawrence Price, was cut down by sniper fire. The last American to die? It was one minute later, only one minute before 11:00 that morning, Henry Gunther, just 23 years-old, was killed at the hands of a machine gun.
Why? Both sides knew that the war was just hours from ending. Why continue to make the final minutes so awful? Historians have said that it may have been due to the sheer hatred of the enemy, or the love of killing by some, or the ambition of some commanders for one last battle and one final victory. The final hours in the history of World War I were pure evil.
We have been given the grace to live the final hours of this year, 2018. How will they be? Good or evil? Wise or foolish? By God’s grace and guided by His Spirit these final hours can be some of the best of this year.
The whole idea of living in the final hours, not just of one year to the next, but of all of life, is spoken of in the Scriptures. And when it speaks of living in the final hours it speaks of it in three ways. First, living in a strong conviction of God’s victory, that is, living with a great faith in Him. Second, giving God the adoration and praise He deserves. Finally, resolving to live in obedience to God’s will and word.
Moses, now an old man, delivered his last sermon. In his final hours he spoke about what was most important in his life and what he wanted to leave for his people. “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life.” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20b)
The guy who became the leader of Israel after Moses died was Joshua. He seemed to have learned well from his teacher. In Joshua 24, the very chapter that tells us of his death, Joshua’s last words, in his final hours were, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15)
Have you ever had occasion to hear the confession of a believer in their final hours? It can be amazing and encouraging. They speak of things that they want heard. They speak of appreciation for those around them. They speak of the greatness of God’s grace in life and now in their death. They rejoice in the love of God shown in Jesus. They encourage their most beloved to hold to faith. The final hours in many Scriptural accounts speak of a living faith in God, an adoration to God for what He has done and will do, and a resolve to live according to God’s will and way.
In the final hours of Paul’s life he would pen, “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)
The thief of the cross, the day that Jesus died, was within minutes of entering hell and he knew it. He spoke to the other thief, the one who continued to rail against Jesus. His words? “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong. Then he looked at Jesus and asked, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’” (Luke 23:40-42) Jesus told him confidently, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) His final hours were his best hours.
I hope New Year’s Eve is an amazingly deep spiritual experience for you. Live this night with faith in God, great praise for His goodness and a conviction to say, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.”
Paul tells us to make the most of every opportunity. He tells us not to be foolish to be wise. In these final hours confess again that Jesus Christ is your only hope for standing before God on the day of judgement. Confess that you trust in Him, believe in Him, have found peace with God through Him. Paul in II Corinthians would make this appeal, “As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, ‘In the time of favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (II Corinthians 6:1-2)
In these final hours tell God thanks for this year and the times when He was gracious, even though we didn’t deserve such grace. Think of all the prayers that you offered and how He did amazing things to show how much He loves you and me.
In these final hours set a higher standard for life. Make new goals. In the previous chapter of Ephesians Paul said, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
I got the neatest e-mail from Mary Farley on Wednesday, the day after Christmas. Mary had her and Jim’s family over for Christmas and they had a conversation about generosity. She mentioned that she was impressed with the responses of two of the grandsons who didn’t have much money to share with others, but they gave of their time. One helped an older lady who lived a few blocks away with carrying her groceries and shoveling snow. Another said that he helped a fellow student in school who is handicapped.
So, Mary, who will be 91 in July remarked, “I guess I need more challenges, more ways to serve.” (I think I’ll call Mary the next time it snows!!)
Redeem the time. Make the most of every opportunity. It doesn’t matter if you’re 10 or 40 or 90, the final hours can be the best hours.
It’s New Year’s Eve. This year is done. Only a few more hours are left. Make them the best. Confess the confidence that you have in God. Once again speak that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. Give Him great praise. Let joy fill your soul. Look for ways to follow God’s leading in your life.
The final hours – the best hours. Amen!!