The Word That Never Comes Back
“THE WORD THAT NEVER COMES BACK”
(II Corinthians 6:2)
“He saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
“He says, ‘At the acceptable time I listened to you, And on the day of salvation I helped you’; behold, now is ‘the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation’” (New American Standard Version)
How many times does God have to say something to make it so? Of course, God only has to say anything one time for its truthfulness to be established. When God repeats a statement, there is reason for the repetition. Apparently, when God repeats a truth, He is doubling the emphasis of that truth.
Our text has an absolute overload of emphasis by means of repetition. There are five terms in this verse that are repeated terms. God is apparently seeking to alert and alarm us with some great truths here. Note the repeated terms: the word “behold” occurs twice; the word “accepted” occurs twice; the term, “the day of salvation,” occurs twice; the word “time” occurs twice; and the word “now” occurs twice.
“Behold . . . . accepted . . . . the day of salvation . . . . time . . . . now.” Each of these terms is used twice in this one verse. We surely should receive the impression that God is very serious about something, and we are surely intended to discover what it is. Look at these repeated terms one by one.
The word “behold” is an alert word, an alarm word. Never does God use the word “behold” without speaking about something that is well worth listening to and well worth looking at, and it is to our eternal benefit to hear it and see it.
The word “accepted” is a strange compound word made of a combination of three smaller words. The three smaller words are “well,” or “good”; “received”; and “face to face.” God is speaking here about a time, a time which should be well-received by us, and we, face-to-face with the opportunity of that time, should seize it in the instant in which it comes, because if we let it pass, it is gone forever.
Another interpretation of this word is possible. The word translated “accepted” is also translated “acceptable,” or “accepting” time. You see, when you come to respond to Christ right now, in this moment, God well-receives you face-to-face. Though He knows you perfectly, He well-receives you face-to-face, with all disqualifications removed! What a Gospel assurance!
The third repeated term is “the day of salvation.” The word “salvation” presupposes that something is lost, and it presupposes a saviour. The great salvation that is mentioned here is explained beautifully just a few verses before our text, in II Corinthians 5:21. “God has made Christ, Who knew no sin, to become sin for us, that in Him we might be made the righteousness of God.” Here are the great doctrines of substitution — Jesus took our place and suffered for our sins, and justification — when a sinner trusts Jesus Christ, the very righteousness of God Himself is credited in Heaven to that sinner’s record so that God now sees that sinner as perfectly righteous in Christ. The term, “the day of salvation,” suggests also that there are especially opportune times and seasons for a sinner to be saved.
The fourth repeated term is the word “time.” Our literature is replete with humor, bewilderment, and counsel about time. “Time is a treasure that attracts many robbers.” “Time waits on no man -- and only fifteen minutes on a woman!”
A lady who lives in a rural area of the south wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper of the small town near her. In the letter, she wrote, “I wish you smart city officials would stop messing with God’s schedule. I hate this daylight savings time. That extra hour of sunlight is burning up my tomatoes.” And I’m sure it was so!
Two country bumpkins were talking. Suddenly, one said, “What time is it?” The other looked at his watch and answered, “It’s twenty-five minutes until.” After a few moments of silence, the inquirer asked, “Well, twenty-five minutes after what?” The other replied, “I don’t know. Times have been so tough I had to lay off one of my hands!”
A fabricated story tells of a man who had waited for twenty years to have an interview with God, and finally, God granted him the meeting. The Lord said, “What can I do for you?” The man answered, “Lord, I would like to ask You three questions.” “You may do so.” “My first question is, Is it true that with You a day is as a million years?” God answered, “Yes, that’s true.” “My second question is, Is it true that with You a penny is as a million dollars?” “Yes, that’s true,” God answered. The man then took a deep breath and said, “My third question is, Then, Lord, may I have a penny?” And God answered, “Yes — just a second!”
There are two Greek words for time. One is the word “chronos,” from which we derive such words as “chronology.” This word describes timetable time, that passes by in succession, in sequence. “Chronos” describes time that is like a rolling ball; it simply rolls by, leaving one spot for another (the past for the future). We spend a great deal of time concerned about “chronology.” What will I do this hour, today, tomorrow, each day? The Bible has very, very little to say about “chronos.”
The other Greek word for time is stressed in Scripture, the word “kairos.” “Kairos” refers to the crisis time, the opportune time, the right moment. You don’t always have that kind of time. You have a lot of chronology, but not much obvious opportunity — unless you know how to turn “chronos” into “kairos,” which is one of the vocational assignments of the Christian life. The word that is used in our verse is the word “kairos.” “Now is the acceptable opportune moment — an eternally critical time.”
The last repeated term in our text is the word “now.” Dr. Clarence Macartney preached an excellent sermon on the word “now,” in which he called it “The Word That Never Comes Back.” In that sermon, Macartney said, “If the world should stand a thousand million years, this word will never come back.” Another preacher solemnly called the word “now” “The Only Time There Is.” So this text presents a sober revelation of a solemn responsibility. It deals with how we use our “nows.” The proper use of “now” is commanded in revelation and commended by reason. When we are told or reminded of some responsibility, conscience, gratitude, self-interest all say, Do it now. Satan and every evil influence say, “Wait.” So procrastination becomes Satan’s chloroform by which he dulls ours lives into perpetual postponement of crucial responsibilities.
Is there any decision you should make for Christ at this moment? Is there any deed you should do for Christ today? Is there any process of spiritual growth which should begin by your active participation today? Is there any relationship which you should adjust for Christ’s sake today? These things should be done now. “Now is the acceptable opportune moment — an eternally critical time.” We will focus our attention on the word “now” and its solemn importance. Let me give you four great reasons for deciding for Christ and doing for Christ NOW.
I. THE BREVITY OF LIFE
First, you should decide for Christ and do for Christ, now, because of the sheer brevity of life. In James 4:14, the Bible asks and answers this question: “What is your life?” The answer given emphasizes the brevity of life. “It is even as a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away.” Your life is like the visible vapor of your breath on a cold winter day. It appears for a moment, then it dissipates into the air. Job 14:1 declares that “man who is born of woman is of few days.”
There are many Biblical pictures which remind us of the brevity of our lives. For example, the Bible tells you that your life is like grass — which springs up quickly in the cool of a day, but is as quickly blistered and destroyed by the noonday heat. Your days, the Bible says, are swifter than an eagle hastening to the prey. Who has not seen pictures of the powerful eagle darting across the sky to sweep down upon a helpless rodent and carry it away? Your life comes and goes with a speed like that. Then, your life is “as a tale that is told.” A fascinating story begins, captivates the attention of the listeners, absorbs them in its drama and delights — and then is over! So with your life. Job said, “My days are swifter than a post.” A bit in ancient information is necessary for us to understand that picture. The “post” was the Persian postal service, the fastest mail-delivery service on earth at that time. So rapid was its delivery that it became the pride of the postal service. Job selected something renowned for its rapidity, and used it as a symbol for the brevity of human life. From these statements alone, we are reminded of our stewardship of life and time, and are encouraged to use wisely the time and opportunity which we have.
Suppose you could divide your life into the twelve time-increments on the face of a watch or clock. Suppose, also, that you lived an average number of years that an American lives today. So each number on the face of the watch would represent six years of time. By this calculation, at one o’clock, you would be six years of age, at two o’clock you would be twelve, at three, eighteen, etc., etc. At one — six years old; at two — twelve years old; at three — eighteen years old; at four — twenty-four years old; at five — thirty years old; at six (half-way around the clock; one-half of your life is spent) — thirty-six years old; at seven — forty-two years old; at eight — forth-eight years old; at nine — fifty-four years old (three-fourths of your life is used up); at ten — sixty years old; at eleven — sixty-six years old (my present age is sixty-four; I am at 10:40 p.m.!); at twelve — seventy-two years old — and the clock has run out; life has stopped; opportunity is over. Where are you right now on this clock of life? At this very moment, as you read these words, the hands of the clock are steadily moving! This sign appeared on a shopkeeper’s office door: “I’ll be back in fifteen minutes. I’ve already been gone ten!” Every person reading these words has already used up a large portion of his allotted time — and none of us knows how much we have!
“The clock of life is wound just once, And no man knows the hour,
When the hands of that clock will stop, At late or early hour.”
Can anyone think on such truths as this without a quickening of responsibility and stewardship? Can any Christian hear these ideas and not want to make the best decisions and engage in the best deeds that will enable him to use life, time, and opportunity to maximum advantage for Christ’s sake?
The clock on the wall says that “now is the time;” the watch on your wrist says that “now is the time;” the calendar on your desk says that “now is the time;” the funeral procession moving toward the cemetery says that “now in the time.” The open grave in that cemetery says that “now is the time.” The epitaph on each tombstone says that “now is the time.” Every reminder of your own mortality says that “now is the time.” Dear friend, the sheer brevity of your life on earth testifies to you that if you need to decide for Christ or do for Him, you need to act now.
II. THE UNCERTAINTY OF LIFE AND DEATH
Second, the sheer uncertainty of life and death calls upon you to decide for Christ and do for Christ now. There are some things in life you can count on. For example, you can count on blood being red when it reaches the air; you can count on fire being hot; your can count on water being wet, and ice being cold. You can count on the sun shining by day, and the stars shining by night. There are many things you can count on with sure certainty. But there is one thing you had better not count on! You had better not count on tomorrow, because there is not such time! All the opportunities of life are opportunities of today, and to say tomorrow to them is to say goodby to them.
Proverbs 27: says, “Boast not thyself of tomorrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” In I Samuel 20:3, David said to Jonathan, “As the Lord lives, and as thy soul lives, there is but a step between me and death.” Just how far away is death from any of us at any time, anyway? Death is as close as one renegade cell in our bodies, that begins to grow malignantly. Death is as close as an automobile out of control at the next intersection. Death is as close as the next microbe of food or water that enters our bodies. Death is as close as an ounce of poison inadvertently ingested into our bodies. Death is as near as a heartbeat! One day your heart will pulsate for the last time, and time will give way to eternity.
Just how old does a human being have to be to be old enough to die? How far away is death, anyway? Go to the cemetery and look at the dates on the tombstones. Look at the length of the graves. You will find a grave there that is shorter than the length of your own body. You see, you are old enough to die right now. In fact, you were old enough to die when you were born.
Picture your life as a daily planning calendar, a date book in which you note your schedule and your appointments. Each day is identified by a square on the calendar, and each square has a small opening on the side that leads into the next square. So we move from one day to the next to the next . . . . However, one day soon, there will be no next square, no next opening. That day will be terminal. Death will open that square at the bottom, and usher you into pure eternity. What will you wish then that you had done with your “nows” as they came and went?
Some years ago, I was with a large church group on a mission trip to the large city of Niteroi in the South American country of Brazil. One morning, part of our team was on a large rented bus, waiting near a large church for our last translators before we departed to our points of service and witness for that day. I was seated near the front of the bus casually conversing with my translator. Other team members had gotten off the bus and were passing out Gospel tracts or talking (through their translators) to people on the street. Suddenly, I noticed a Brazilian man standing on the sidewalk just outside the door of our bus, facing the open doorway. He remained motionless in that position, as if he might be expecting someone. I asked my translator to join me, and we went down the steps of the bus onto the sidewalk. I said, “Good morning,” and he replied in kind. Then I said, “Sir, may we help you? Are you waiting for someone?” He replied, “I just wanted to get one of those little books that are being distributed on the street,” and he pointed to a spot down the sidewalk a few feet where a Brazilian man was leaning against a pole and reading a Gospel tract. I said, “Sir, that little booklet is about Jesus Christ and eternal life. Have you given much consideration to Jesus Christ? Have you ever considered His claims on your life?” He politely answered, “Sir, I have never had time for that sort of thing.” I said, “Sir, what if I had been death?” Looking puzzled, he said, “Excuse me. I don’t understand.” I said, “Sir, when I stepped off that bus a moment ago, what if I had been death?” I reached out and gently laid my hand on his shoulder. He said, “Oh, I would run away.” I said, “Sir, where are you going to run to get away from death?” From that moment on, the man was as serious as death itself! I had the great privilege of sharing the glorious Gospel of the Son of God with him, and he gladly received and trusted Christ. I asked him to pray and ask Jesus to save him, and he prayed in his own words. When we finished praying, I talked with him further, and it became evident that God had indeed saved him. I said, “Sir, don’t ever forget that, from this moment on, Jesus Christ lives within you.” But he was ahead of me. He said, “Sir, how could I ever forget that the most important Person who has ever lived is inside of me?”
What if the last person you shook hands with had been death? What if the last person you greeted had been death? Suppose the next person you see should be death? In the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, there is a painting which dramatically illustrates this truth. The painting reveals two horses on a racetrack, running a race. One horse is slightly ahead of the other. The front-running horse is ridden by a frail little man, representing the human race. The horse behind is obviously gaining on the one in front. The second horse is ridden by a skeleton with a scythe, a cycle, in its hand. The scythe is drawn back as if poised to strike. Underneath the picture is the caption, “Closing In.” Every sensible human being should decide for Christ and do for Him now, because now is the only time we have. The uncertainty of life and death testify that now is the time.
III. THE STUPIDITY OF DELAY
Third, the sheer stupidity of delay tells us that now is the time to decide for Christ and do for Him what should be done. What fools procrastination makes of all of us! Someone defined a procrastinator as “a person who won’t take now for an answer.” Since now is the only time we have, this response is indeed stupid. Grace Pilzer chided herself and others with these words:
“Procrastination is my sin; It brings me nought but sorrow;
I know that I must stop it; In fact, I will — tomorrow!”
Horace, the first century B.C. Roman poet, said, “He who postpones the hour of a right decision or a right deed is like the idiot who waits for the river to run out before he crosses.” What is the real folly of procrastination in spiritual matters? What does an intelligent human being do when he puts off until a later time that which urgently needs to be attended to today?
First, he hardens his heart against God. The Bible asks, “Who has hardened himself against God, and prospered?” Who, indeed? Who, indeed? Hebrews 3:13 expresses this wise counsel: “Exhort one another daily, while it is called Today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” This verse places a clear alternative before each of us. We will either encourage each other and be benefitted spiritually by it, or we will suffer an inevitable, inexhorable, inescapable hardness of heart against God.
Second, the person who delays the most important decisions and deeds defies the will of God. The word “now” resounds through the Bible with a nearly staccato rhythm. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord, for though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow, and though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). “Acquaint thyself now with God, and be at peace; thereby good shall come unto thee” (Job 22:21). “Come, for all things are now ready” (Luke 14:11). “Prove me now, saith the Lord of hosts, and see if I will not pour out a blessing upon you, so great that you cannot receive it” (Malachi 3:10). To fail to decide and do wisely and immediately when God speaks places the procrastinator in defiance of the will of God.
Third, the person who postpones urgent spiritual matters gamble dangerously on the possibility of tomorrow. Recently, I read this poignant poem:
“Around the corner I have a friend, In this great city that has no end;
Yet days go by and weeks rush on, And before I know it the year is gone.
And I never see my old friend’s face, For life is a swift and terrible race.
He knows I like him just as well, As in the days when I rang his bell,
And he rang mine, we were younger then, But now we are busy, tired men.
Tired with playing a foolish game, Tired with trying to make a name.
Tomorrow, I say, I will call on Jim, Just to show that I’m thinking of him.
But tomorrow comes and tomorrow goes, And the distance between us grows & grows,
Around the corner, yet miles away; “Here’s a telegram, sir”; “Jim died today.”
Tomorrow is a fool’s paradise! It is like an elusive utopia that never comes. Someone said, “Today is often crucified just like Jesus was, between two thieves; one is the thief named Yesterday, the other the thief named Tomorrow.” The fact is that Yesterday is in the tomb of time; it is dead and gone, and will be seen again only at the judgment. Tomorrow is in the womb of time; it hasn’t been born yet, and never will be.
On one occasion, Paul was given a hearing before the Roman governor Felix. The story reaches a climax in these words: “And as Paul reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee” (Acts 24;25). What folly! Are we to assume that Almighty God is going to wait on our convenience? How stupid it is to delay decisions and deeds that have eternal consequences. These should be taken care of today because of the sheer stupidity of failing to do so.
IV. THE INFINITY OF ETERNITY
Finally, the infinity of eternity testifies to us that now is the time to decide for God and do for Him what needs to be done. Franz Werfel said, “The world seems to have forgotten in its preoccupation with the Right and the Left and the Here and Now, that there is an Above and Below as well as a Hereafter.” The Bible speaks of a higher kind of life in which there is no more death, and of a deeper kind of death in which there is no more life — and they both last forever.
The sober truth, dear friend, is that when you started to live, you started to live forever. How long is “forever”? How long is eternity? It is beyond the province of man’s mind, beyond his mental capabilities, to realize the length of eternity. Eternity is duration without cessation. Eternity is existence without end. It is like a circle that has no beginning, no end, no middle no parts. It is constant continuation. How long is eternity? Well, if you can find the cradle where God was laid when He was born, you can find its beginning. But you may forget that, because God had no beginning. If you can find the tomb where God will be buried when He dies, you can find its end. But you may forget that because, contrary to the declarations of some, God is not dead and will never die. How long is eternity? Eternity is the Lifetime of the Almighty, and He has included you in its length, and would love to include you in its quality! The Biblical term, “Eternal Life,” is not a term of mere duration, but a term of quality. Eternal life is life that has God at its very center now, and will be lived out with Him in Heaven forever.
I saw a somewhat vivid illustration of eternity while taking a college course in economics (of all places!). The professor had used the word, “infinity,” in his remarks in class that day. A student spoke up at the end of the class (undoubtedly a freshman!) and said, “Dr., what is infinity?” The professor didn’t speak a word. He walked to the long chalkboard at the front of the room, picked up a piece of chalk, walked to the end of the chalkboard next to the window, and began to walk across the front of the room toward the door, drawing an erratic “straight” line across the board as he walked. When he came to the edge of the board, he didn’t stop, but continued to draw the line off the board and onto the wall. When he came to the door facing, he still continued the line, disappearing out the door as if always drawing the line. When he came to an opening, he quickly passed it and began to draw again on the solid surface that was beyond it. When we last saw him that day, he was walking across the campus, making a mark on trees and walls as he came to them. He disappeared from sight, still drawing.
Two days passed, and we went back to class with that demonstration still fresh in our minds. The professor was just a minute late to the class, and behold, he came walking back across the campus with a piece of chalk in his hand, still drawing on any solid surface. He came into the room by the same route, drawing on walls and door facings, and then on the chalkboard at the front of the room again. When he reached the middle of the chalkboard, he swept the chalk off the board as if creating an indefinite line. “That, folks, is infinity!” he said, giving us plenty to ponder. I was a fairly new Christian at the time, so I had plenty to ponder from that illustration! All urgent matters of spiritual reality and responsibility, of Heaven and Hell and Eternal Life, should be dealt with now — because of the sheer infinity of eternity.
Some years ago, a man named Thomas Jefferson Villers wrote a book entitled, The Hurry Call of Jesus. I have not read the book, but I am certain of this: Every call Jesus Christ ever extended to man is a “hurry call.” “Now” is the Word that Never Comes Back. Be sure to treat it right while you have it.