(…continued) The question of why we are here and where we are going has two possible answers, one comes from an old beer commercial, and the other comes from the Bible. You can decide which one you like best, which one has the most credibility, and which one you will live your life by. And your answer will make all the difference, now and forever. The message of the old beer commercial is, “You only go around once in life, so grab all you can this time around;” and the message of Bible is, “I am but a pilgrim here, passing through on my way to a better home.”
The beer commercial says life is a party, experience all you can and have all the fun you can, until you pass on, because this life is all there is. The Bible says life is a test, believe in God, do what is right, and keep the faith. The beer commercial says do whatever you want, no one is watching. The Bible says, someone is watching, and there will be an accounting and a judgment at the end. The beer commercial makes you desperate, because there is never enough time to have it all and experience it all, and this, as we learn in another famous beer commercial, “is as good as it gets.” The Bible promises a bigger life in a better place, and encourages us to be patient in suffering here, for the best is yet to come. The beer commercial always disappoints, for the party is never as good as it promises to be, and all good things must come to an end. The Bible doesn’t promise a party, but guarantees trouble and adversity. This life, says the Bible, is not a playground, but a ‘vale of tears.’ Yes, there will be some wonderful times in this life, but we are on the way to something else, to that perfect life to come. That’s for you, says the Bible, if you will believe in Jesus, the one who came to provide it for you. That is where faith comes in, that is how we are tested. We are called on to believe in and to trust in the promises of this Lord. In the beer commercial philosophy, you are on your own. The Bible tells you that you have a heavenly Father who created you, sustains you, and wants you to join him in his heavenly home forever.
Here is the interesting thing about all this: God gives us the freedom to pick how we will approach life, and allows us to live by our choice. We can choose to live by the beer commercial philosophy or by the Bible. If you decide to only go around once in life, with no other obligations or beliefs, God will allow you this life; but then when it is over, God will not force you to live with him in heaven. However, if you look to him and believe in him, he promises you that when this life is over, you will not perish, but have everlasting life.
The two different approaches to life have been compared to different types of ocean cruises. As one ship embarks, the captain says to the passengers, “Welcome aboard, our ship is the finest in the business, we have all the best accommodations for you, plenty of good food, round the clock entertainment, and the forecast is for beautiful weather. As you know, we have no destination, and somewhere, someday soon, we don’t know when, this ship will sink and we will all perish. But until then folks, enjoy your cruise. As I said, our accommodations and services are the very best.”
On the other ship, the captain says this: “Welcome aboard folks. I am sorry to tell you we have some bad weather ahead of us. Activities will be restricted, and you will face some inconveniences. Please be patient, we are on our way to New York which I know is home to many of you, and you are all looking forward to getting there. Even though the weather will be unpleasant, I assure we will get to our destination. In the meantime, we will all have to endure our troubles the best we can.”
The Biblical view of life is like the second cruise. The Bible has a very different message from the one that says, ‘You only go around once in life.’ The Bible tells us that this life is not all there is, but is only the first part of a journey on to somewhere else. God’s Word teaches us to keep our eyes on that destination, and on the One who has promised to bring us there. God has not promised an easy passage, but God has promised a safe arrival in a good place, and a good refuge.
Psalm 46 begins with these words: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” We need not fear, we are assured, God will be our refuge, no matter what, now and forever. If I were ever asked to give a last lecture, that is what I would want to say most of all. I would want to talk about this last and lasting refuge.
One more thing: did you know that Jesus himself gave a last lecture? He did. It was at the Last Supper, just before his arrest. His words are recorded in the Gospel of John, chapters 13-17, and in that ‘last lecture’ he offered you a wonderful promise. Jesus said in John 14: 1-3: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 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 me, so that you also may be where I am.”
Joshua 24:14-15 — Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness… But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, Lord, in your mercy grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
–John H. Newman, based on a 16th century prayer