Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, July 26, 2020

Shavuah Tov,

It’s Time to Check Your End-of-Life Arrangements

By Dr. and Senator Raymond Finney

INTRODUCTION: If you watch television, you have probably seen the SeniorcareUSA Final Expense Insurance commercial. (Refresh your memory at: https://www.ispot.tv/ad/wfxt/seniorcareusa-when-the-time-comes .) “Mom” lies in a hospital bed, recovering from a life-threatening situation. Gathered around her bed are her two grown children, who are relieved and grateful that she will recover. Mom lovingly tells the children of her plan to spare them future distress: “When my time comes, I have a final expense policy with SeniorcareUSA.” 

I do not promote any insurance company’s product in these RRs. I only use this commercial to make a point. Mom, realizing that her life will end some day, wants to be prepared. You surely realize that your life will also end. Are you prepared?

PAUL’S CHECK OF HIS LIFE: The Apostle Paul sacrificed greatly for Yeshua. He wrote a significant portion of the B’rit Chadashah, often while imprisoned and suffering privation. Much of our theology is due to his brilliant mind and brave, uncompromising messages. 

After Paul’s fourth missionary journey, Roman Emperor Nero imprisoned Paul in Rome. Paul, to whom we owe so much, was chained in a dark, dank dungeon. Scant food was of poorest (even dangerous) quality. Bored, sadistic guards could abuse prisoners at will. Rats and bugs ran all over and around prisoners. The stench of unwashed bodies, death, urine, and feces must have been unbearable. 

The exhausted, pain-racked apostle realized that his opportunity to proclaim the Gospel had ended, just as his life was also coming to an end. Shortly before his death, Paul was able to write a second letter to Timothy. Paul sought to strengthen Timothy’s faith and give him final instructions.

Like Mom in the insurance commercial, Paul made a final assessment of his life and felt assured that his “final expenses” – his debts to God and to his fellow man– had been paid.

Read Paul’s assessment of his life in these final days of his life (2 Timothy 4:6-8): For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. In the future there is reserved for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day– and not to me only, but also to everyone who has longed for His appearing. 

Shortly after writing these words to Timothy, Paul was beheaded. Yeshua’s apostle to the Gentiles was forever silenced. He was now with his beloved Lord.

SHOULD PAUL’S END-OF-LIFE CHECKLIST BE OUR END-OF-LIFE CHECKLIST? No matter how young you are and how many years of life you think you may have, you could die before the sun sets today. It is never premature to be ready to meet your Master (Hebrews 9:27): And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this judgment,…. and (2 Corinthians 5:8): We are confident… and prefer rather to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord…. and (Luke 23:43): Yeshua said [to the evildoer being crucified next to Him], “Amen, I tell you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” 

In preparing for the end of life, every person should consider three things Paul felt were important at the end of his life, as recorded in 2 Timothy 4:7:

CHECKLIST ITEM 1. Paul checked off the first item of importance to him: I have fought the good fight….

YOUR checklist: Yeshua and the apostles saw life as a constant struggle– a fight– against evil. Paul was a fighter for Yeshua:

** (1 Timothy 6:12a): Fight the good fight of faith!….

** (Ephesians 6:10-17): Finally, be strong in the Lord…. For our struggle is… against the rulers, against the powers, against the worldly forces of this darkness, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist when the times are evil, and after you have done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm then! Buckle the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness…. Above all, take up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit,…. 

** (1 Corinthians 9:26-27): So I [Paul] run in this way– not aimlessly. So I box in this way– not beating the air. Rather, I punish my body and bring it into submission, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. 

Too many Believers are AWOL (absent without official leave) in the raging war Satan wages against God and us. When you finish your life, will you be able to look back and say: “I fought the good fight? God’s enemies were my enemies, and I fought His enemies to the best of my ability. I was not a coward, when confronted with evil. I did not seek safety, hiding as a useless, whimpering being in an anonymous throng of silent sheep. I did not find solace in attaining freedom from controversy.”

MY checklist: I find shame that I have too often taken the comfortable, safe route of following the crowd and doing nothing, when Yeshua and Paul would have acted in opposite ways. When I wilted from fighting for Yeshua, I admitted weakness. I sadly cannot say, as Paul said, “I have always fought the good fight.”

One example for most Believers my age or older is: Did I vigorously oppose the shameful Roe vs Wade Supreme Court decision on January 22, 1973? More than 60-million unborn American babies have been killed because of this horrible decision. My Divine Judge may remind me that I said nothing at the time. I ignored Proverbs 24:11-12: Rescue those being dragged off to death, hold back those stumbling to slaughter. If you say, “Look, we didn’t know this.” Won’t He who weighs hearts perceive it? Won’t He who guards your soul know it? Won’t He repay each one according to his deeds? 

My silence reminds me of Pastor Martin Niemöller’s poem, “First They Came:” First they came for the Communists || And I did not speak out || Because I was not a Communist. || Then they came for the Socialists || And I did not speak out || Because I was not a Socialist. || Then they came for the trade unionists || And I did not speak out || Because I was not a trade unionist. || Then they came for the Jews || And I did not speak out || Because I was not a Jew. || Then they came for me || And there was no one left || To speak out for me.

I did not speak out for unborn babies in 1973. It does not matter that my failure to speak out would not have affected implementation of Roe vs Wade. I am judged for what I do, not what black-robed Supreme Court justices do. I will be judged for my actions, not held responsible for results.

CHECKLIST ITEM 2. Paul checked off the second item of importance to him: … I have finished the course,….

YOUR checklist: Life’s race is a marathon, not a 100-meter dash. Run life’s race hour after hour, day after day, and year after year of your life. Run, even when you would rather rest. You may stumble and fall while on life’s race course, but pick yourself up and keep running for (pressing toward) the goal Yeshua has placed ahead of you (Philippians 3:12-14): Not that I [Paul] have already obtained this or been perfected, but I press on if only I might take hold of that for which Messiah Yeshua took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself as having taken hold of this. But this one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal for the reward of the upward calling of God in Messiah Yeshua. 

As Yeshua died on the cross, He made a similar assessment of His life (John 19:30): When Yeshua tasted the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. “It is finished,” here, translates the Greek word tetelestai. Tetelestai, a business term of first-century merchants, corresponded to our business term of “paid in full.” Yeshua’s “finish” had nothing to do with the end of His life. He knew He would live again, and would live for eternity. The “finish” referred to His completion of the mission Adonai had given Him. It would be a rare Believer who could raise his/ her eyes toward God and confidently say, “Tetelestai! The tasks You assigned to me have all been finished.” 

MY checklist: Many tasks God has assigned to me will be unfinished at my death. Many opportunities God has placed before me for action will be wasted at my death. I have not finished the course– the race of life– that God wishes I had run. I sadly cannot say, as Paul said, “I have finished the course.”

CHECKLIST ITEM 3. Paul checked off the third item of importance to him: … I have kept the faith. 

YOUR checklist: This may seem to be the easiest of Paul’s three checklist items to complete, and, yet, so many of us fail to complete this item. In the simplest application, keeping faith is simply not losing faith. Faith is a gift to a Believer from the Ruach ha-Kodesh (1 Corinthians 12:9). 

If we apply Yeshua’s parables about investing our gifts, including faith, while He is away, then keeping faith would imply that we must nourish and grow faith as the precious gift it is, not merely “keep” it.

Yeshua knew Believers would lose or squander faith (Luke 18:8b): [Yeshua said] “… But when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” Untold millions of Believers and the denominations/ churches in which they congregate have lost faith. If Yeshua sat in many church pews… if Yeshua watched many televangelists’ programs… if Yeshua read many documents distributed as “Christian literature”… would He recognize who was being worshiped? Would He recognize that it was God’s Holy Word being magnified? Would He say to these pastors, televangelists, and authors, “… Well done, good and faithful servant!…” (Matthew 25:23)? Or, would He say, “… I never knew you. Get away from Me, you workers of lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:23)? It is a grievous sin to misrepresent the message of faith presented in the Bible! (See: Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32; Proverbs 30:5-6; Jeremiah 26:2; and Revelation 22:18-19.)

MY checklist: I have kept the faith I first confessed publicly as a ten- to twelve-year old (?) boy in Lincoln Park Baptist Church, Knoxville. FYI: Baptist Church services differ somewhat from Shomair Yisrael services. In a Baptist church, each service ends with an invitation to accept Yeshua as personal Lord and Savior. Anyone hearing from the Ruach ha-Kodesh is invited to walk to the church altar to talk to the pastor and discuss his/ her decision to follow Yeshua. This public act fulfills Paul’s recommendation of “confessing with the mouth that Yeshua is Lord” (Romans 10:9). This act is the reason every Crusade service of Billy Graham, who was an ordained Baptist minister, ended with the familiar calling to the front all who had made “decisions” for Yeshua (while the choir commonly sang, “Just As I Am”). If the decision (confession of faith) seems valid, baptism by water immersion will follow shortly.

After nearly seven decades, I remember my encounter with the Ruach, as though it occurred yesterday. It was a very warm May morning (before air conditioning), when the Ruach descended upon me totally unexpectedly. I had spent that Sunday morning in thoughts important to a young boy– taking care not to listen to the pastor; looking out the window at a beautiful eastern Tennessee morning; wondering what my mother would cook for lunch; and thinking about the games of marbles I would shoot with Butch, Vaughn, and other friends that afternoon. Suddenly, I heard an invitation from God to walk the church aisle and talk to the pastor. Even Satan himself, had he stood between me and the pastor, could not have stopped me! The Ruach’s message was that real and that urgent! Get up! Walk to the altar! Accept Yeshua as your Savior! Now!

Over the years, I have kept the faith given to me that Sunday morning. But, is merely “keeping” the faith enough? Yeshua’s parables of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and the minas (Luke 19:11-27) raise questions. In these parables, understand that the servants represent Believers; the master represents Yeshua; “going away” represents Yeshua’s ascension to Heaven for a time; and wealth represents our spiritual gifts, including faith. In these parables, it was not enough for the servants merely to keep the master’s wealth, while he was away, but it was expected that the wealth would be used and multiplied (Luke 19:20-21a, 23-24 26): [Yeshua said] “But another [slave] came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina. I was keeping it safe in a handkerchief, for I was afraid of you because you are a strict man….’ |…| ‘Then why didn’t you put my money in the bank, so that when I came back I could have collected it with interest?’ Then to the bystanders he said, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has ten minas.’ |…| I tell you, to everyone who has, more shall be given. But from the one who doesn’t have, even what he does have shall be taken away.” 

I have kept faith (that is, I have not lost faith), but have I invested my faith– my gifts and opportunities– enough to please Yeshua? I am probably like the foolish servant in the Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:20): “But another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina. I was keeping it safe in a handkerchief,….’” Have I merely kept my faith neatly wrapped in a handkerchief? The master’s (Yeshua’s) rebuke to the lazy, unprofitable servant was harsh. It is a rebuke no Believer would want to hear.

CROWN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS: Yeshua, Paul, and other Bible authors described the Bema Judgment, or Judgment Seat of Messiah (2 Corinthians 5:10 [also taught in other verses]): For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Messiah, so that each one may receive what is due for the things he did while in the body– whether good or bad. At this judgment, good deeds (good works) for God or neighbors will be rewarded. Such rewards are commonly called “crowns.” [“Judgment Seat” translates the Greek Bema]

Paul wrote of one of these crowns– the Crown of Righteousness– in this letter (2 Timothy 4:8): In the future there is reserved for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day– and not to me only, but also to everyone who has longed for His appearing. 

God has perfect plans for His children! One plan is that we will not suffer or labor in vain for Him, while we live in an imperfect, unfair, sin-filled earth. Paul understood this, and, through this letter, he wanted Timothy and all of us to understand God’s plans for us. 

Paul suffered greatly and was martyred for his faith. To a person who does not know the Lord, Paul would seem to be a fool (1 Corinthians 1:18): For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. And, to give up life to promote an  itinerant Jewish preacher who had been crucified years earlier? Would that not be the ultimate foolishness? All Paul needed to do was to call a guard to his side and recant (deny) his belief in Yeshua, and he would have been freed from prison.

Paul knew Yeshua. He had spoken to Him. Nothing (torture, imprisonment, death sentence) could shake his faith in Yeshua as Lord. Even as strong as Paul’s faith was, our faith can be even stronger because we have not personally met (seen) Yeshua (John 20:29): Yeshua said to [Thomas], “Because you have seen Me, you have believed? Blessed are the ones who have not seen and yet have believed!” I believe my wife, Linda, exists because she has been my girlfriend, fiancée, and wife for the past sixty years. Before I met her, I could only hope that some young lady (with poor vision and/or lack of discriminating taste) existed who might some day marry me. In other words, by faith I believed a “Linda” might exist somewhere. Through reality, I now know that Linda truly exists. 

Consider the Crown of Righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8). “Righteousness” translates a Greek word, meaning “a state of a person who is as he/ she ought to be, in a condition acceptable to God, a condition of integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, and correctness of thinking feeling, and acting.” When we, through faith, “long for Yeshua’s return” and become eligible for this Crown, we condense all of our faith into a single emotion. Our longing affirms our beliefs in the Divinity of Yeshua and the prophecies of His return. We long to see our Savior’s face. Could this be the most important crown awarded at the Bema Judgment? It takes enormous faith to believe that Yeshua, who has been away for approximately two millennia, will return in the clouds to restore dead Believers to life and snatch away living Believers. This promise seems so preposterous that many nonbelievers laugh at and walk away from us, when we try to spread the Gospel. Stand fast in your faith, though, and you may earn this crown!

As Mom pondered “when my time comes” in this television commercial, it might be worthwhile for you to ponder when your time comes. As much as possible, ponder your life, as Paul pondered his:

** Have you fought the good fight?

** Have you finished the course?

** Have you kept the faith? 

Every day you breathe is another day you can fight for the Kingdom of God, run harder toward the goal set before you by God, and grow your faith in God. 

While we are speaking about death, next Sunday I plan to discuss last words people say. What will be your last words? These words may reflect a great deal about your relationship with God. Shalom and Maranatha.