The Last Chance

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Proverbs 29:1

He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck will suddenly be broken beyond healing.

Proverbs 29:1, RSV

“He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.” That has to be one of the most sobering sentences ever written. It falls on us with such weight because it is so simply and plainly put. There’s nothing melodramatic about this, nothing exaggerated. It’s not a highly charged warning, not an emotional plea. It’s simply a statement of fact. This is the way things are. Someone who is admonished again and again but continually hardens himself will one day be utterly broken. That’s it. People who go on resisting God’s call are some day going to hear it for a final time. Unexpectedly, without announcement, there will come for them one last chance.

A PRESENT-DAY PARABLE

Try to picture that in your mind. Here’s a young man given to reckless driving. He seems to go wild when he gets behind the wheel of a car, especially when he’s had a few drinks. He’s been spoken to about this many times. His parents have reasoned with him, pleaded with him, threatened to take away his driving privileges. Even his carefree friends have become concerned after a few near-accidents with him on the road. They urge him “to take it easy.” He’s had policemen deal with him about this problem. He’s been before the local magistrate. His minister has called him in to have a talk about it more than once. All of these have made attempts at correction. There have been many scoldings, many chastenings, many pleadings and urgings. He’s been warned over and over again about the possible consequences for him and for other people if he isn’t more careful. But all of that seems to get nowhere with this young man. Even after his license has been revoked, he finds some way to get back behind the wheel of a car. He persistently refuses to listen to anyone. He won’t submit to correction. He won’t change his way of driving – not for anyone.

We know what’s coming, don’t we? Unless something brings this boy to his senses, the story can have only one ending. Some time, somewhere, that madly careening car of his is going to fly out of control or hit something that won’t budge. We can almost hear the brakes, the tires, the impact. We can almost see the shattered glass, the tangled metal, the smoke and steam. Barring some kind of miracle, that young life (and perhaps others too) will be broken beyond repair.

There will be a lingering grief for loved ones. That will go on and on. But for the young man himself, there will be no more urgings, no more reproofs. The time for that will have passed. Someone’s earnest warning somewhere along the way will have been the last opportunity he ever had to change. But he missed it, and now he’s gone and nothing, nothing will bring him back.

BIBLICAL EXAMPLES

That’s a present day parable of an old text. I asked myself as I studied it, Who in Bible times acted like that? First I thought about Pharaoh, Egypt’s king in the days of Moses. Remember how Moses and Aaron kept pleading with Pharaoh in God’s name to let His people go? Pharaoh snorted with contempt, “Who is the Lord that I should heed His voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord. Moreover, I will not let Israel go.” Some time later, Moses and Aaron came back with the same request. Again they got nowhere. Pharaoh hardened his heart. He wouldn’t listen.

God began to send plagues on the land of Egypt. The water in the Nile was turned to blood. Vast hordes of frogs descended on the land. Then the air was filled with gnats. Then the cattle of the Egyptians died. Still Pharaoh hardened his heart. He wouldn’t let the people go.

Next the Egyptians were stricken with boils. Then hail flattened their crops and locusts devoured what was left. Amid all of this, Moses and Aaron were pleading with Pharaoh in God’s name, urging him, warning him. At times he seemed to relent but then became fixed again in his refusal to let the people go. Finally the proud king was broken without remedy. The angel of death touched the firstborn in his own home, and the finest of his legions perished in the waters of the Red Sea. One of the warnings he had received turned out to be the last. Then when judgment fell, there was no reversing it.

Think of rebellious Judah in the days of Jeremiah. God had spoken to them again and again through His prophets. He had raised up one after another of those messengers, rising early to send them. Consistently the people refused to listen. Finally God said, “Behold, I am shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Return everyone from his evil way and amend your ways and your doings. But they said, imagine this, “We will follow our own plans and will everyone act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.” And that is what they did.

There came a day when Jeremiah’s most gloomy prophecies came true. Jerusalem fell. The temple was sacked. The flower of Judah’s youth was swept into captivity. Later on a remnant would return but the kingdom of that generation was broken beyond healing.

Think about Jerusalem, the city over which Jesus wept, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who were sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together, and you were not willing.” So many pleadings, so many overtures of mercy, so many invitations to come. But now the day of opportunity was past. Judgment was about to fall. Within a few short years Jerusalem would lie in ruins and the temple would be no more.

WHAT ABOUT US?

But all of that was long ago and far away. The point of this passage is that the same kind of thing can happen to us, or to people we know. Some of us may have been stifling the voice of conscience for a long time. Our loved ones and friends may have cautioned us about something, about some destructive habit we have, some grudge we carry, some relationship that’s no good for us.

We somehow know, though we haven’t been willing to admit it, that it’s not only other people who are concerned. God has been speaking to us about these things too. Ignoring them, we’ve been putting Him off as well. That’s where we are today. We’ve been bracing ourselves against reproof. We’ve been stiffening our necks and hardening our hearts.

The illusion we live under is that there’s still plenty of time. Whatever our stage in life, we’re all confident that we have at least a few more years. We know we’re not where we ought to be spiritually. We know there are some things that need to change. But there’s no urgency about that for us. It’s like our long range plans to go on a diet: we’ll indulge ourselves today and start tomorrow.

Another illusion we cherish is that we’ll still be just the same when tomorrow comes. We won’t, of course. Someone has sagely said that “truth resisted hardens the heart.” As we keep on stifling the voice of conscience, keep on resisting admonition, keep on shutting our ears, as it were, to the call of God, something happens inside us. We get harder, colder, more callous. The chances of our changing significantly begin to dwindle. Think of this: the possibilities of a new start are greater for you today than they will ever be again. Every stubborn “no” we say now makes an eventual “yes” that much less likely.

That’s why God’s call to repent, to change, to turn, has such an urgency about it. The future is notoriously uncertain. The only thing sure about it for those resisting God is that they’ll be older and colder tomorrow than they are today.

Listen to Jesus when He talks about a tragedy that befell people in His day:

Those 18 upon whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them; do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-3).

Listen to Isaiah the prophet, “Seek the Lord while he may be found. Call upon him while he is near” (Isa. 55:6). Or hear the voice of Paul, “Behold, now is the accepted time. Behold, now is the day of salvation . . .” (2 Cor. 6:2).

For a final generation in the world, the break beyond healing will come at the return of Jesus, when the last opportunity to repent will have passed. For all of us, that moment will certainly come with death. There will be no chance after that to believe and turn, no opportunity to begin again. The solemn word at the end is: “Let the evildoer still do evil and the filthy still be filthy and the righteous still do right and the holy still be holy . . . (Rev. 22:11). As the tree falls, so let it lie” (Eccles. 11:3).

It’s my joy to say to you who are listening now that this is still a day of grace for us. You’re still hearing and God is still pleading. The door of opportunity still stands open before you. And, oh, I plead with you, don’t say no to God’s call. Don’t harden your heart against His loving offer in Jesus Christ. He waits to welcome you back, to forgive, restore and release you. But He will not wait always. No one knows exactly when, but there will be for you and for me a last chance, a final opportunity.

We don’t know much about the anguish of lostness, but remorse and regret for what might have been is surely a part of what Jesus describes as “the fire that is not quenched and the worm that never dies.” The rich man that He talked about in one of His parables can only remember in hell the opportunities that he had lost. He cannot grasp them now, cannot cross the great gulf fixed. He has no more chances.

The poet says, “Tell me not in mournful numbers, `Life is but an empty dream.’ Life is real and life is earnest, and things are not as they seem.” Oh, yes, friends, life is earnest. Our decisions are momentous. “When you sow a thought,” so the saying goes, “you reap an act. When you sow an act, you reap a habit. When you sow a habit, you reap a character. When you sow a character, you reap a destiny.” God wants to break that cycle for you, if you’re trapped in it if in your case it’s taking you away from Him. But it will take decision on your part and action while there’s time.

Let me urge you today to listen to the whispers of your conscience. Heed the concerns of those who care about you, the entreaties of those who long to see you going God’s way. Above all, take note of God’s overtures, still sounding in your ears, of His loving invitation to return.

I remember reading once about George Whitefield’s preaching. He pictured a man stumbling toward the edge of a precipice unaware of his danger, about to slip over the edge. He made the scene so gripping that suddenly a man in the crowd cried out, “My God, he’s gone!” Before anyone ever says that about you, give heed to the warnings of God spoken in marvelous love and concern for you. Turn away from danger, from doom, to give your heart to Him, to trust His kindness in Jesus Christ. You will find, however long you may have resisted and rebelled, that there’s still mercy for you. Let His grace bend you to submission and trust that you may never need to be broken beyond healing. You may have other opportunities to do so, to respond to His call, but no one of us can be sure of that, can we? As far as we know, this may very well be our very last chance. Friends, don’t let it slip. Don’t pass it by. The time, God’s time, is now.

Let’s pray together. I’ll express, phrase by phrase, a prayer that you might pray in response to God’s call. If it’s what you want to say to Him, then repeat it after me in your heart right where you are now:

“Oh, God, I’ve been stubborn for so long. I’ve gone against my conscience. I’ve refused to listen to others. I’ve hardened my heart to Your call. Please forgive me. Today I want to heed Your Word. I believe that Christ died for my sins. I commit myself to Him as my Savior and Lord. Lord Jesus, I now turn from all my sinful ways to You. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit and give me strength to walk in Your way. I thank You. Amen.”