Skip Heitzig - A Rock-Solid Finish
Father, we turn our hearts toward you. We know this is essentially a Bible study and we believe you to be the inspired originator of the text. Though you used human authors with their own styles and personalities, nevertheless, you superintended the output, the outcome, so that it reflects exactly what you want to say to us. So we believe that your Word is eternal, thus it speaks to us today. Therefore we unashamedly carry our Bibles and open them to this book and consider what you have to say to humanity. Help us to understand it, in Jesus' name, amen.
Well, we are at the finish line, as you can see by the verses you have ahead of us, just a few verses to finish out the book. And as we are approaching the finish line of First Peter, Peter the author talks about the finish line of his audience, like an athlete who would endure the hardship, the strain, all of the toil of months of preparation, because the athlete thinks of the finish line. All runners think about that finish line. When I was in high school, I ran track. I wasn't great at it. In fact, I don't even know why I did it. They just said you have the build for it, so I did a little bit of training, and I ran some races. I gotta tell you, I couldn't wait to cross the finish line, simply to get it over with really. But good athletes think about winning the race.
As one of our sprinters, track and field, Maurice Greene wrote: "When the gun fires you must concentrate for every second on the way to that finish line. You should know exactly how long it will take you and to think about every step of the race that you are about to run". All of the pain, all of the preparation for that moment, to finish. But it's more than just finishing up, it's about finishing well, to run the race so that when you're done, you look back and go, "You know what? I gave it all that I could give it. I have no regrets". And so can I challenge all of us today as we bring this book to a close that you would live your life like an athlete, that you would run your race so that at the end of your life you have made the kind of choices that lead to looking back with no regrets.
In 1986 in the New York Marathon there were about 20,000 runners. That sounds like a lot, but there's about 50,000 nowadays in the New York Marathon. Twenty thousand runners ran the New York Marathon. In that year, what was most important wasn't the one who came in first place, but the guy who came in last. His name was Bob Whelan. He came in at 19,413th, dead last in the race. You want to know what his time was to run the New York Marathon? Four days, two hours, forty-seven minutes, seventeen seconds. You say, "Why was that special"? Because he had no legs. His legs had been blown off in Vietnam seventeen years before. He had a twenty-five-pound leather saddle strapped to his torso. He had pads on his knuckles, and he would lunge his arms forward, and he ran that way at an average speed of one mile per hour. But he finished. He finished the race.
And as Peter comes to his finish line and he raises up the eyes of his readers to consider their finish line, this is what he says, verse 10, "But may the God of all grace, who called us to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. By Silvanus, our faithful brother as I consider him, I have written to you briefly", I know, some of you are going, "Briefly? We've been in it all year". That's me, not him. "Exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand. She who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you; and so does Mark my son. Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to you all who are in Christ Jesus. Amen".
As Peter closes his letter, he sums up what we have spent months looking at. He sums in kernel, nugget form all of the great truths that he has talked about. He calls it, "this is the true grace of God". "I've told you about God's saving grace, his sanctifying grace, grace to keep you secure till you get to heaven, grace to endure pain and hardship and trial". And that's verse 10 and 11. That's just sort of a summary statement. Then in verse 12, 13, and 14, is his own personal note. It is here where I believe Peter picks up the pen and finishes the letter. Up till now, like in most ancient letters, he has dictated what he wanted to say to a guy named Silvanus. His name is mentioned. That's the formal name of Silas. We know about Silas; he was one of Paul's companions.
And so Peter is dictating the letter to this scribe, a secretary, formerly called amanuensis. And then at the end he picks up the pen and he writes the last three lines. There are six things I want to show you, six things you and I need to know as we approach the finish line. I was reading this week about a Kenyan runner. One of the most amazing things, if you've watched people from Kenya, it's almost like the whole country has produced great runners. And at one of the Olympics someone asked one of these Kenyan long-distance runners, he goes, "Why is it that your country has produced so many great athletes"? And he smiled and he said, "I think it must be the road signs. They say, 'Beware of Lions'". And we have seen that in our book, have we not, where Peter says, "You're adversary the devil roams around like a roaring lion"?
That'll keep you going. But there's more than that, and so allow me to unpack verse 10 and verse 11 and give you six things you and I as Christian athletes on this track of life need to know. To make it to the finish line, number one, you need to know God's character. Please notice verse 10. "But may the God of all grace", stop right there. One of the great titles of God is this. Paul called him "the God of all comfort". Peter calls him "the God of all grace". That's how God introduces himself to Moses back in Exodus 34. He says, "I am the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious". Please note that Peter did not refer to God as "the God of all fairness" or "the God of all justice," though he absolutely is that. But Peter did not refer to him as that, nor did he call him "the God of all truth," "the God of all correctness," though he is certainly that.
The one thing he wanted to leave his audience with is that the character of their God is the God of all grace. How many of you know people who have forgotten that he's the God of all grace? I run into Christians all the time, I know they're Christians because they've received Christ, but I know they have forgotten that he's a God of grace. It's just difficult to be around their judgmental attitudes. He's the God of all grace. David in Psalm 86 said, "You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion and gracious". Now, that's a great word, but when we come to the New Testament, that word takes on a whole new complexion, because it's the very covenant that we relate to God with. It's a covenant of unmerited favor, grace. John, chapter 1, "The law came by Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ".
So, under the law, God demands righteousness from man; under grace, God gives righteousness to man. Under the law, righteousness is based on our good works; under grace, it's based on his good work, his finished work on the cross. Under the law, it only takes one sin to make you a sinner; under grace, it only takes one Savior to fix it all. So to put it in its simple form: grace is how God deals with you. It's not based on what you deserve, it's based on what Jesus did. Or even more simply, take the word grace, G-R-A-C-E, and make it an acronym. I know you've heard this: Grace Is God's Riches At Christ's Expense. God can deal with you and I based on what Jesus did, so he can treat you differently.
Second Corinthians 5:21, "God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him". In other words, God treated Jesus Christ like you deserve to be treated, so he can treat you like Jesus deserves to be treated. That's the covenant of grace. You need to know God's grace to make it to the finish line. You're saved by it. You're secured by it. And we sing about it every time we sing the song "Amazing Grace". Remember that stanza? "'Twas grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home". So no matter what you're experiencing today in your life, God isn't looking at you like this. That's not grace. I know some people may be, but not your God. He's a God of grace. That's his character.
The second thing you need to know is his calling, God's calling. "May the God of all grace, who called us to his eternal glory", stop right there. This tells me that God's purpose for my life goes beyond grace-filled life and it includes eternal life, the glories of heaven. Do you remember that the Lord Jesus Christ prayed that private prayer to his Father in John 17? And he said, "Father, I want all those that you have given me to be with me where I am, that they may see my glory". Remember that? The Father will answer that prayer one day and take you with Jesus to his glory.
Now this second truth in this verse is based on the first truth in this verse. Because God covers us in his grace, he can call you to his glory. The second is based on the first. Why is this important? What this does to his audience, and hopefully to you and I, is it raises our horizon. It lets us see beyond the pain of the race, beyond the pain of this life to something is that is beyond this life. Paul said it this way in First Corinthians 15, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable". Life can hurt; it can hurt a lot. But beyond the hurt there is heaven and, honestly, we often forget this. We often forget this, until we're reminded of it, we forget it.
I was having a conversation with a buddy of mine about a year, year and a half ago, and he's a pastor. And we were talking about heaven. Now just a disclaimer, pastors aren't always doing this. They're not always talking about heaven when they're with each other. It's not like that. So sometimes, you know, we will talk about motorcycles. But we are talking about heaven this day, actually, heaven and motorcycles may have a lot in common, but that's another story. Anyway, we were talking about heaven and I think we were talking about the millennial kingdom of Christ, and then the eternal state, all the different aspects. And my friend paused in the middle of this conversation, and he looked at me and he said, "We're going to see that". It's as if here we are, we've studied it, we've taught it, we know it, but it dawned on us suddenly, "This is real! We're actually going to experience all of these things".
That does something to you when you live that way. Second Corinthians, chapter 4, the apostle Paul says, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though we are wasting away outwardly, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. And so we fix our eyes", there's the horizon, "we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporal, what is unseen is eternal". Live looking forward to what's beyond life.
A couple years back I was at a local baseball game. And I love baseball and I love local baseball. And I'm watching the game, it was a warm summer evening, afterwards there would be fireworks, and there were. But in front of me were a couple of gentlemen who were friends. And they were enjoying the game and they had a beer and then another and then another and then another and then several more. And by the end of the game, by the time of the fireworks, they were well saturated in their drink. And as the fireworks went off, one guy holding a beer turned to his buddy, it was like a bad Budweiser commercial. Trust me on this. He turned to his friend, in a slurred speech he goes, "It doesn't get any better than this". And I think, "Oh goodness, gracious, really? You know, a couple beers at a junior baseball team game with a few fireworks and that does it for you, huh"? And I'm thinking, "It's going to get a lot better than this". There's grace to make it through this life, and there's glory that we're called to afterwards. It's going to get a lot better.
C. S. Lewis said, "Christians who do the most for this present world are those who think most of the next. Aim at heaven and you'll get earth 'thrown in': aim at earth and you'll get neither". So God's character: he's the God of all grace. God's calling: he's called us to eternal glory. But there's something attached to it. I don't want you to miss this. There's a condition to that, God's condition. It says, "By Christ Jesus". "May the God of all grace, who called us to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus". Let me just tell you what this tells me: you will not automatically enjoy God's grace in life and automatically enjoy God's glory in heaven, they only come by Christ Jesus.
So the first two now are dependent upon the third. The grace and the glory depend upon, do you know Christ Jesus? Are you having a relationship with God through his Son? It's not automatic. You don't enjoy these things just because you're alive. I've been to a lot of funerals. I've done a lot and I've been to a lot. And some that I have been to, if I were just to walk in and listen to eulogies and listen to some preachers, I could assume by what I hear at some funerals that the only condition there is for you to get to heaven is just to be born. It's all you gotta do, be born. Live any way you want, make any choice you want, but at the end we'll find some preacher who will push you into heaven, and say nice things about how wonderful you were.
I heard about a scoundrel, it was his funeral. I mean, this guy hated God, never wanted to go to church, never wanted God mentioned in his house, and everybody knew him. When he died, he had a funeral, and some preacher who didn't know him gave the eulogy and gave the sermon and talked about how wonderful he was and went on for about ten minutes of praise and accolades. And everybody in the audience is looking like, what!? And, finally, the wife of the poor deceased man nudges her son and said, "Go up there and look in that casket and make sure that's your dad". She thought, "I may be at the wrong place". Listen, you don't get to heaven by just being born, you get to heaven by being born-again. And Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me".
Heaven is exclusive. The grace to live this way and the glory that is promised are to those who relate to God through Christ Jesus. It's sort of like my iPhone case. I brought my iPhone case here. It's wood-grained. It's very thin. And if I were to...come on up here. Let me give you my iPhone case. I'm going to give you my case. What do you get when I give you my case? Yeah, okay, thank you. Give me my phone back. You get my phone. My phone is attached to my case. So if you get my case, you get my phone.
Now, if you go to the store to buy a case, here's how it works: they will sell you a case and they always have a picture of the case holding a phone, but on the front of the case it says, "Does not include phone". They don't want you to think for twenty bucks you're going to get a brand-new phone. But if I give you my case today, you would get my phone. It comes with it. That's why I'm not going to give you my case. However, that's how it works with Christ. When you take Jesus Christ, what comes with him is the whole package of the grace to live through all the tough stuff and the glory that will follow in the end, but you must take the Savior to get the glory. It's all part of the package. One of the biggest surprises in heaven will be who's not there, and one of the other big surprises in heaven is who's there. And we might just look at each other and go, "Skip, you're here"? "By God's grace".
The fourth thing to notice is God's curriculum. Again, he's summing up his whole letter, God's curriculum. Notice what he says, "May the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while". Why did he write this? Here's why, it's obvious: because suffering is a part of life, everyone's life. Everybody goes through suffering. But it's also a part of God's curriculum to mature us. Pain happens to every person, but purposeful pain happens only to the child of God. Everybody goes through pain and they look back and they wonder and they go, "I don't get this. I don't understand. That's just a bad thing that happened". But not for a believer. A believer knows the truth of Romans 8:28, "That all things work together for good to those who are called to God by God according to his purpose".
Everything works together. Purposeful pain is what children of God get. In chemistry you can take two substances that by themselves would be dangerous for you to ingest. Sodium is an alkaline metal. If you were to take it in its pure form, it's not good for you, enough could do damage to you. Chlorine could be a poison to you. But if you combine those two things and make sodium chloride, that's just table salt.; it can be actually beneficial. So it's a combination of things. God can cause all things, bad, worse, good, and combine them and make something beneficial. The right combination of even harmful things can actually be beneficial. A great example is the apostle Paul. He spoke about "a thorn in the flesh".
Some of you will remember the passage I'm referring to, Second Corinthians 12. He basically said, "I saw so many wonderful, cool things, and visions that God gave me, or it was given to me, a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure". I thought about that passage yesterday, because I was weeding my yard. And I had gloves on, but there are some weeds...do you know this about some weeds, that they're sort of impervious to gloves? They got thorns in them. And this happened to me. I pulled a weed out and I got a thorn in my flesh. And I had it most of the day until I said, "That's what that thing is that's bothering me". And I pulled it out with the tweezers, thorn in the flesh. I thought about what Paul wrote. He said, "I had a thorn in my flesh".
The big difference between my little sticker and the thorn that Paul spoke about is he was referring to a sharp, impaling stick that killed people, a stake in the flesh. And most scholars believe he was referring to an eye disease that he lived with for years until the Lord took him home to glory. But the way he described it is what is most noteworthy. Listen to what he says, "Because of the revelations I saw, there was given unto me a thorn in the flesh". And the word, the way it is written, "was given to me," is an aorist passive indicative, which simply implies "God gave it to me. It was God that gave me this thorn in the flesh".
So listen to how this sounds, it sounds a little weird: "Therefore God gave me a thorn in the flesh, a message of Satan to buffet me". "Buffet" means punch. It's as if Paul is saying, "So that I wouldn't get so prideful, God the Father, my God who loves me allowed one of Satan's own demons to beat me up a little bit. And I prayed three times to be delivered from this. And God finally said, 'My grace is all you need.' And therefore," Paul said, "I rejoice in my affliction and I embrace it". That's quite a statement. Why would God allow a choice servant like Paul to go through pain like that? Here's the earth-shattering truth: it was good for him. It was good for him. it was helpful. It was beneficial.
David said, "It was good that I was afflicted". It was beneficial. Satan wanted to destroy him, God used it to develop him. It's what Job said. Job, after all of his struggles and trials, do you remember what he said to his wife? He said, "Shall we accept only good from God? Shall we not accept adversity"? I mean, am I going to be so shallow a person that when I get some happy experience, I go, "Oh, that's from God". And when pain comes in my life, "That's not from God, it's from the devil". It might be, but God allowed it to strengthen you, to develop you. That's part of God's curriculum. Something else, please notice this. How long do you suffer? Look at what he says, "After you have suffered a while". It's not long. It's a deliberate comparison to the word he used previously, "eternal".
Please notice: he's "called us to his eternal glory," until then we suffer "a while". You get it? We're suffering temporarily, we've got something eternal coming up. This is passing, that's permanent, just "a while". The fifth thing we need to know is God's commitment, God's commitment. If he lets you suffer for a while, it's for a purpose. Please see it: "After you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you". That's God's intention. If you're suffering today, that's what he's after. He wants to "perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you".
I'm not going to go through all those four words. They're really synonyms. He's stacking up the verbiage to make to make a point, and the point is God really does use suffering to bring a real benefit. Though Satan will persecute you, and that's really what he's writing to principally, a persecuted group of believers. And the devil wants to wear you down with his persecution and wants to weaken you through these trials, the opposite result will happen. It will actually strengthen you, not weaken you. It'll establish you.
Some of us the last two years have been praying for a prisoner in Iran by the name of Saeed Abedini. Have you heard that name at all? Some of you have. It's gotten a lot of press. He's a pastor who has been imprisoned in Iran because he loves Christ. And his wife Naghmeh Abedini has traveled the country and spoken to Congress and asked pastors and churches to pray. He been in prison for about two years. Sometimes they beat him so badly he's near death. They take him to the hospital just enough to recover and bring him back to prison.
He recently wrote from his prison these words: "The Word of God says that when we're persecuted for our faith, we're to 'count it all joy.' When I think that all of these trials and persecutions are being recorded in heaven for me, my heart is filled with complete joy. I always wanted God to make me a godly man. I did not realize that in order to become a godly man, I needed to become like the steel under pressure. It's a hard process of warm and cold to make steel. The process in my life today is that one day I was told I will be freed on bail to see my family and kids on Christmas, the next day I'm told I will hang for my faith in Jesus. One day there are intense pains after beatings and interrogations, the next day they are nice to you and they offer you candy. These hot and colds only make you a man of steel for moving forward in expanding his kingdom".
I read that and I thought, shame on me for even complaining about a sticker in my finger, or that somebody's going too slow on Osuna when I'm trying to pull out, or "You didn't do my hamburger right," or whatever. God allows the sufferings and superintends these things in our life to "perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you". There's one final thing as we come to the finish line; and that is, God's compensation. You might ask, "What does God get out of all of this? What does God get out of giving us grace to live and calling us to glory and giving us through Jesus Christ the benefits and the refinement even through our own experiences. What does he get out of this"? Glory.
I want to show it to you. Verse 11, "To him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen". Now this is called a benediction. This is called a blessing. He's blessing the Lord. If I'm picturing Peter writing this, he's dictating to Silas before he picks up the pen and he's thinking about what he just said about God's plan. And he paused and he goes, "Oh praise God! Right that down. To him be the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen". But though that is that, that outburst of praise, there's a principle behind it; and that is, when this life is all over, and the trials that shape your life are all over, and the sufferings that bring refinement is all over, and death is all over, and you're in glory, we're all going to be looking back and we're going to be saying that everything that God did and everything that God allowed was perfectly justified. We're going to say, "Glory to you, Lord. Now I get the big picture, the whole picture".
There's not going to be any of this: "Well, God, there was a time in my life I want to talk to you about". Have you ever heard people say that? "When I see God there's one episode in my life, he has some splaining to do". Are you nuts? You're going to see God and fall on your face, and you'll get it. In an instant you'll get it and you'll go, "God, there's something I want...oh never mind. Praise you, Lord! Everything you did was perfect and right and just, to you be the glory forever. Amen".
There was a man who drove all night and in the morning after driving all night he wasn't really that close to his destination, so he decided he'd pull out of the road and get a couple hours sleep. He came to a town and he found a little quiet park in the town and parked his car right there on the main thoroughfare. What he didn't know is that happened to be the day of that town's annual race. And so he fell asleep in his car and a few minutes later he heard a... It was on his window and he rolled down the window and it was a jogger, jogging in place. He goes, "Hey, what time is it"? He said, "It's 8:15". "Hey, thanks," and he ran. Closed the window, fell asleep again, a few minutes later... It was another jogger asking for the time. He said, "It's 8:25". And then he sees there's a bunch of runners coming down this road, so he wrote out a little sign and he placed it on his car that said: "I do not know the time". He went back to sleep. A few minutes later... and it was a jogger saying, "Sir, sir, it's 8:45 a.m".
There's a moral to that story: the worst place you can be in a race is sleeping on the side of the track. Have some of you been doing that? You need to get back on the track, get back in the race and run well. Not just finish up, but do that, finish up, finish well. Make the kind of choices today that you'll never have to look back and say, "Oh, I regret that". And you start here, you start now. If you need a do-over, that's where you begin, asking the God of all grace to save you, to clean you up, to give you purpose, and to help you. We all need him, some just admit that sooner than others, but we all need him. Would you bow with me.
Father, we think about the possibility of a rock-solid finish, finishing the race of life with strength, with honor, with dignity, with integrity. And we think of that, we also think that, well, h'm, we have had some missteps along the way. We have fallen. We have failed. But we are so thankful that our coach is the God of all grace, undeserved favor that flows freely from your heart based upon a finished work done 2,000 years ago, that you can just pour out and lavish forgiveness and grace on us. We need it. We need it. We begin there. We end there, but we begin there. We begin with you, the God of all grace, the One who loves to forgive. The One, as Peter said, "who has begotten us again to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead". And so as we close this series and this message, some of us are opening up a new chapter of our lives called a relationship with God through Christ Jesus his Son; may that be so.
As our heads are bowed and eyes are closed, could it be that you are in thinking of your life in realizing that whatever you have or do not have, you're not sure that you have eternal life. You're not sure that if you were to die you'd be in heaven. You're not absolutely certain that you have a relationship with God. That should unnerve you just a little bit, if not a lot. And you should not be content to just have your parents or your wife or any other relative next to you or close to you or before you that has some relationship with God, you need your own. I want to give you that opportunity. If simply you're here and you realize, "I don't think I belong to him. I'm not certain that it's been really real and on the up-and-up with God. And I need him, and I need his Son Jesus to forgive my sins and give me a clean start, a clean slate, a do-over".
Or if you've wandered from God and you're coming back to him, either way, if you've willing to give your life to Christ, I want to pray for you. I need to know who you are. I want you, as our heads are bowed, my eyes are open, everybody else's are closed, would you raise your hand up. Raise it up and keep either up for a moment. You're just simply saying, "Not only do I need God, I'm willing to give my life to him today". Lord bless you; and you, right in the middle; on the edge; and toward the back; on my right; and in the middle. Right there in the middle, yes, ma'am. Yes, ma'am, right up here in the front; right over here on the side. On my far left, several of you, three, four of you right there on that left side. Right up here in the front. In the balcony, I see a couple of your hands. Man, a few of you in the prayer room, forgive me, I just saw your hands. Right up here in the front on my left, yes, ma'am.
Father, I do pray and I join my brothers and sisters praying for these who are among us, thankful for them, thankful you brought them here, excited about what you're doing in their hearts now and what you will do in the future. If you were outside or in the Hub, and you raised up a hand, there's a pastor there who will acknowledge that and give you instructions. Father, we pray for everyone at all three of these campuses meeting right now, that you would draw them to your Son into a place of joy that they've never known, and peace that passes their understanding as they realize their sins are forgiven and the God of all grace is their dad because of Jesus. In his name we pray, amen.