I returned and saw under the sun that The race is not to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong, Nor bread to the wise, Nor riches to men of understanding, Nor favor to men of skill; But time and chance happen to them all. For man also does not know his time: Like fish taken in a cruel net, Like birds caught in a snare, So the sons of men are snared in an evil time, When it falls suddenly upon them. Ecclesiastes 9:11-12.
They say that September 11, 2001, dawned as beautifully as one could dream. The dawn of December 7, 1941, was a sleepy Hawaiian Sunday in paradise. The Atlantic was as smooth as a millpond on April 14, 1912. Sometimes peace and beauty are misleading. One imagines such days moments before the Romans arrived at Jerusalem in 70 AD, or the Babylonians in 586 BC, or the Assyrians around 722 BC. Those who witness destruction marvel at how things can change so quickly so completely.
In June 1998, while I was preaching in a Gospel meeting in Buffalo, Wyoming, my friend Ed Watts took our family for a drive up into the 10,000 foot Bighorn range of the Rocky Mountains looming over Buffalo. There, near the town of Ten Sleep, a cross stands perched in a precarious place. The cross is imbedded in the little meadow just feet from the edge of a 1,000 feet sheer cliff. Ed told us the story.
In the 1800s, an English nobleman who sought his fortune in America encountered a blinding snowstorm while hunting high in the mountains. Locals found him and his mule dead at the base of the cliff. He, evidently, had simply ridden off the edge of the cliff. Since a burial was impossible until the spring thaw, there was time to contact the family in England concerning funeral arrangements. They sent money and a request to erect a cross near the spot from which he had fallen. There the cross still stands, on a high meadow that slants steeply toward a certain and spectacular death.
I think of that English nobleman in the moments before he departed from this earth. Since he lived in the area, he knew there were cliffs, and probably knew that particular one; but, in a blinding whiteout, this meadow was like all of the others. Mules are notoriously good at finding their ways, and better than horses at avoiding unseen dangers, but this particular mule failed pretty badly. It is likely that this man's first concern was that he not freeze; he knew not that he was seconds from eternity. Neither did the residents of doomed Samaria and Jerusalem, the passengers on the Titanic, the sailors on battleship row at Pearl, or those in the World Trade Center. Neither do we.
In Ecclesiastes 9:11-12, we learn that men are often as clueless about their eminent demise as are the animals that we capture and kill. Birds and fish are cited as examples. As dull as fish are, we are scarcely more aware of our danger. In those fateful moments before the disaster, whether on a Mountain in Wyoming or New York or Pearl Harbor or on the Atlantic or ancient Jerusalem, there is an acute unawareness of peril. Today men die who are equally unprepared - not only for death but also for the eternal consequences of unfaithfulness. While there may have been faithful Christians among those to whom disaster came quickly, the vast majority probably were not.
Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. Matthew 24:42. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 2 Peter 3:10. Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that." James 4:13-15.
The solution is to live as faithful Christians and to trust in the Lord and in his power to save rather than in this life's uncertainties. This means not just going through the motions; it means real choices, real priorities, and real sacrifice. Then unexpected disasters hold no real tragedy. Some of us are talking about being faithful Christians, but that's all it is, talk. We can't expect help from God when we continually give him a paltry place of convenience in our lives.
At the moment the mule's foot stepped over the edge, a man's destiny was sealed. At that moment it no longer mattered how rich and respected he was in England or anywhere else. It only mattered whether or not he was a faithful Christian. At the moment of your own death, your destiny is also sealed. Then it will make no difference how much money you made, what kind of home in which you lived, what car you drove, how much pleasure you enjoyed, or how many men praised you. The only thing that matters then is this: WERE YOU FAITHFUL TO GOD? You know what? Really, that's the only thing that ever matters anyway. PO Box 110, St. Marys, WV 26170.
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