Date: May 24, 2009
Bible Text: John 17:4 | Roger Voegtlin
Series: Transcribed Sermons
If you have your Bibles, please turn in them to John chapter 17. I’m going to preach on an old idea that has meant so much to me. In fact, barring salvation, it changed my life more than anything else. We don’t know how long we are going to live; but in your mind’s eye, draw a line. At the beginning put “birth,” and at the end put “death.” People are here today who are older than this, but let’s make 80 marks. Then let’s picture where we are. In my mind, I have to put 65. That’s where I am on the road of life.
Now the question is, when you come to the end of life with nothing but memories to look back on, what will you have to see in order to conclude that your life has been a success? When it comes to death, what will you have to see to conclude that these remaining years were a success? Let me suggest that if you can’t answer that question, you are not ready to live the rest of your life. You don’t have an objective in life. You really don’t know where you are going, and I’m afraid that’s where the majority of people are, including Christians. Now if you were to ask the Lord Jesus Christ that question, He would have answered it without hesitation. He knew where He was going, He knew what His objectives were, and He knew what He wanted to accomplish. You say, “That was Jesus.” Well, in a lot of ways we can’t compare ourselves to Jesus, but we can know (if we want to know) how to live our lives successfully.
In John 17 we have a record of one of the Lord’s prayers, and in verse 4 we read, “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” In other words, He said, “I have accomplished Our plans for Me.” Another time that Jesus said, “It is finished,” was when He hung on the cross. He was talking about redemption and the fact that everything that was necessary for the redemption of mankind was complete. It was finished. “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” It was accomplished; it was complete.
Now turn to II Timothy, chapter 4, verses 6 and 7. Someone else in the Bible was able to say the same thing. We can compare ourselves to the Apostle Paul more than Jesus, and I think this is the most wonderful thing that could ever be put on our tombstones. “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” He said, “I finished my course. I was right with You. I knew what You wanted me to do in my life, and I completed it. I have finished it.” Now it might seem simple, but that’s the most exciting thing I think anybody could say about his life. “I knew God’s will, and I accomplished it.” As I’m preaching, I get excited thinking that we could all say that. We can’t all be rich. We can’t all be famous. But we all can say, “I have found Your will.” And when it comes time to die, it is within all of our reach to say, “I’ve accomplished it.” Isn’t that exciting?
Now I wonder if you can answer the question. On your deathbed, if you have the opportunity to lie on a deathbed, what would you have to do to look back at this point, this day, right now, and say your life has been a success? That from this point on, it has been a success. “Oh, I wanted to chase this girl or chase money. I wanted this or that. But I had enough good sense to do what You wanted me to do.” I remember the first thoughts I had as a kid. I wanted to be independent. My father would get up, and I remember he would run. He didn’t exercise as we do today, but he ran wherever he went. He ran at 6:15, right on time, down to the bus stop, boarded a bus, rode to the elevated train on 63rd and Wentworth where the Dan Ryan is now, got on the elevated, traveled into the city, and worked in a dirty, old shop. It was a good job, but I thought, “I don’t want to do that all my life.” The first thing I thought was that I wanted to be a farmer. I wanted to be a farmer until I found that you had to own a farm to be a farmer. So that took care of that.
The next thing I wanted to be was an architect, and I held that idea for quite a few years. I traveled across the city and studied at a vocational school. Then I paid my way to Iowa State University. I wanted to design. I didn’t want to build skyscrapers; I wanted to design churches like this one or beautiful homes. I had a house all designed for myself with a pool half inside and half outside. But I was fortunate enough to be raised in a Bible-believing church, and they believed the Bible enough and preached it straight enough to get across to me that people were important. Souls were valuable, and one verse that would stand out to me in my heart was, “For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” In other words, it compared owning the whole world to the value of a soul.
Now it took some time, but I began to think, “I don’t want to give my life to a business.” I watched the engineers in the office where I worked my first job. Engineers at that time pushed slide rules; that’s all they did. Then I looked at my boss, and he had a beautiful big car and, I’m sure, a big house. But I thought, “When he dies, what is he going to have? And when I die, do I want to leave a successful business, or buildings, or money? Do I really want to give myself to an architect’s office?” I want to ask you the same thing, and I’m not talking about full-time service. But I’m asking you, “Do you want to give yourself to an engineering office? Do you want to give yourself to an insurance business? Do you want your life to be selling cars? Do you want your life to be U.S. Steel Company?” That’s what I’m asking. Let’s go further. Do you want your life to be bank accounts? Do you want your life to be retirement? Do you want your life to be a house or a camper?
Turn to II Peter 3:10. As I was reading the Bible, verses like this would jump out at me. “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night: in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” Now I’m positive that John Hall is a good engineer and that his structures are solid. But some day they are going to melt. Those who work in the mills have seen that molten steel. It’s going to melt; that’s how hot it’s going to be. These things—our money, our bank accounts, our homes, everything is going to burn up. I thought, “Do I want to spend my entire life working to gain something that’s going to burn up?” I was young, but I was asking myself what I wanted to invest my life in.
I want to ask you the same thing. From this point on, in what are you going to invest the remainder of your life? When you are ready to die, what will you have to conclude when you look back to this point? What will you have to see to conclude that your life was a success? Will you think with me about it? What really will make your life a success? What do you want to give the remainder of your life to? Do you want to be the number one salesman? That doesn’t even last here on this earth. Is it building houses? Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate those who build houses. What I’m trying to say is that I can appreciate the beauty of it, and I understand the sense of accomplishment with a job well done. I’m not making light of that. But my question is, “Is that what you want to give your life to?” Is that the important thing? Is the important thing having a giant retirement fund? There’s something about men my age. They never have enough. You’ve got to have more. Is that what you want? A gold watch? That’s the question that you must answer, keeping verses like this in mind.
Then I thought of another passage in I Timothy 6:7–9, “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.” We have to remind ourselves that we will “carry nothing out.” I like people to have goals in life. If you are going to build houses, make them beautiful; do it right. I’m not saying that we should not do our jobs right. Do it right, as unto God. The Bible says that. I’m not saying that we should not have any goals in life. I’m saying our number one goal should be spiritual.
Now turn back to John chapter 5. More and more I believe that I must invest my most prized possession, my time, my life, in something lasting. I have found some things in the Bible that are lasting, the first being, people. John 5:28-29 reads, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” All who are in the grave shall come forth. People will live forever. I’m not saying they will never die here on this earth, but their souls will come forth and live forever in either heaven or hell. Think about that. All who are alive during your lifetime are going to live for an eternity in either heaven or hell—all the people you work with, everybody you brush elbows with, everybody you minister to. That’s what we must remind ourselves. They will live for an eternity. When cars and fame and houses and businesses are gone, all burned up, people will be existing in either heaven or hell.
Now turn to Isaiah 40. There’s something else that lasts forever. Isaiah 40:8 reads, “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall stand forever.” Other things will last forever, like God and love, but the two things that hit me hard, that will last forever, are the Word of God and people. I don’t want to mislead you. Please hear what I say. I’m not trying to get everyone in here to go into full-time Christian service. This is a huge mistake with people. They feel that if they give themselves totally to God, that it means full-time Christian service; and that is not true. In fact, some people get themselves in real trouble because they verbalize it, they publicly say they are called, and then they realize they are not. But they don’t back out and mess up their lives and others’ lives. I am not talking about full-time Christian service. In my case, God led me into full-time Christian service; but in the majority of people, all we are talking about is putting Him first. Surrender doesn’t mean that you quit your job. Surrender doesn’t mean that you are not a housewife, a salesman, a businessman, or mill worker. But your life should not be given over to that mill. It’s very foolish to give it over to that business. Your ambition should not be insurance, or how many cars you sell, or whatever else. I’m afraid that too many “eat, sleep, and drink” their business.
Some have no ambition, and I’d rather have somebody with wrong ambition than no ambition. But the point I’m making is that our number one ambition should be serving God. What am I talking about? People. I’m talking about your family, for instance. I’m talking about raising up your children for God. You see, if you raise up your children for God, it will multiply. I’m not talking about going to a foreign field. I’m talking about our bus ministry, or Sunday school classes, our friends in the church. You see, if I can lead a soul to Christ, and if I can help somebody to grow and put the Bible first, souls will be in heaven because of that.
Jesus could have had anything He wanted. He was God in the flesh; He made it all. But if you read the Bible, the only thing that matters is people. The good shepherd gives his life for his sheep we read. If you study the life of Jesus, you will see He was always thinking about people and never about things. I don’t think you should not have a house. But he said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” He didn’t even have a house, a bed, or a pillow. He could have spoken and had a castle, the most beautiful place on earth. He didn’t even have a penny for an illustration, He had to borrow one. He could have had gold. He could have had the nicest bed on earth. But He had nothing. Why? Again, I don’t believe that He’s saying that we should not have a bed, but I believe He was showing He knew what heaven was like. And He knew what hell was like. He knew what eternity was. His disciples went to town to buy meat, but He was waiting at the well for one thing, and that was a woman who had been married five times and was living with a man who was not her husband. The average person would not have paid any attention. She was not what you would call a great prospect for church membership. But Jesus loved her and was interested in her, and He stood and waited there to be able to give her living water.
Walking down the road one day a crowd was pressing around him, and He saw a little crooked tax collector shimmying up a tree. He was climbing up the tree to see Jesus. Now, he was the one who was cheating people out of their money. Everybody hated him. But when Jesus came under the tree, He said, “Zacchæus, come down. I’m coming to your house, and I’m going to tell you how to get to heaven.” One day, while walking down the road, a blind man was on the side begging, and he cried, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon me.” The crowd said, “Be quiet; He’s busy. He’s important. He doesn’t have time for you.” But Jesus stopped and said, “Bring him to Me.” He was always interested in people—the woman taken in adultery, Mary and Martha as their brother died, Peter’s mother, the five thousand when they were hungry.
If you read through the New Testament, over and over again it illustrates that Jesus was interested in and lived for others. Why? Because He knew the value of their souls. Listen to Him even as He hangs on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He had spent His life giving Himself to people. Those same people nailed Him to the cross, but He said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” The second thing He said as He hung on the cross was, “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Here He was dying in agony, and the fellow next to Him says, “Forgive me. Remember me when thou comest…” And He said, “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” The third thing He uttered on the cross was, “Woman, behold thy son!” And John, “Behold thy mother!” He was taking care of people. Dying for others, He still helped others. What an example!
The founder of the Salvation Army was so ill he could not come to the annual convention where thousands of people were gathered. But he sent a telegram, and they all waited to see what he would say. The telegram said, “Dear delegates: OTHERS.” He gave his life for others. What are you going to live the rest of your life for? I know this is not a new idea, but this is a huge idea. What consumes you? What do you think about? What is important in your life? I’m not asking what people think, but what is important in your life? Work? Laying up a nest egg? Or, are you going to give your life to something lasting?
Some of us get to the place where we want to be accepted by other people. How about souls? Deuteronomy 32:9 says, “For the Lord’s portion is his people…” Not fame. Not things. Not what people think of you. Not being selfish or looking for things in return. Not looking for praise. Our portion should be people. Matthew 4:19 says, “…Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” If you follow His example, if you do what He would have you to do, you will be a fisher of men like He was. Remember the man at the pool of Bethesda? Remember the ten lepers? The woman with the issue of blood? The soldier’s daughter? He was helping people, giving Himself to people.
I want to stress, and you know this if you practice what I’m preaching, that it costs to give yourself to people. You’ve got to be disciplined to give yourself to people. You think people will be grateful, but they are not. The people you give yourself the most to, many times turn around and stab you multiple times in the back. The people you care for the most and pray for the most (because they are in greatest need) will stab you in the back. You go out on the bus route on the weekends after a full week of working at your job, and the people you are loving the majority of the time don’t show any love in return. They actually get irritated at you.
As soon as the weather breaks, we want to knock on doors more than ever in our history. Listen to me, there are not many people who will say, “Thank you for caring enough.” They will scoff at us. But when you are saved, when you are going out, you are laying up treasures in heaven. Not only because of those who get saved, but because you are doing what is right. You are making an eternal investment. The things of this world will be burned up, the things we work so hard for. The things that make you feel like you are “something” will be burned up. What do you think about the most? What do you talk about the most? Where’s your love? If it’s not found here in the Bible, it will burn up. That beautiful house will burn up.
Don’t kid yourself. Where are you in life? Little kids think they will live forever. Some of them will die. We don’t know. But I ask you, “What have you done of eternal value?” What must you do to be successful? I know what I have to do. I would hate to have a church in Florida. I preach down there every once in a while, but I would hate to have a church there because so-called good Christians hit retirement age, move to Florida or Arizona, and do nothing. I don’t understand that. Maybe I’ll come to that place, but the closer I get to the end of my “line,” the more I want to do for God. I’m healthy, and maybe I’ve got eight or ten good years left. But I don’t know if I have a day left. Maybe I have eight or ten good years left, and I want to use that time more than ever before in my life as it gets shorter and shorter. I want to jam pack as much in as I possibly can. Doesn’t that make sense? I know what I’ve got to do. I want to see souls saved, genuinely saved—people who will love God, respect the government, stand for what’s right, be an influence—people.
We’ve got to watch ourselves as we have been building. I think we have the most beautiful complex of any independent Baptist church in the world. But it’s going to burn up. What are we building it for? To fill it up with people—souls that will live forever. You see, I have nothing against success. I love to see Christians succeed, but most can’t handle it. The best thing is to have a chain of souls. Win one, two, four, eight, sixteen. That’s the best chain you can have. In John we read, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life…”
Paul said, “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” Just take what God gives you and thank Him. I am not in any way trying to belittle anybody whom God has blessed. I do praise God for that. But take what He gives you, be glad, and thank Him. And, “…seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness…” Let Him take care of all these things. When God led us to start a college, I had to ask myself, “Why?” The man under whom I was called to preach said I was crazy. Why have a college? Souls. People. The older I get, I push, push, push. Why? Souls. We have missionaries all over the world who are graduates of our school. We have teachers all over the nation, pastors and principals. When we get to heaven, when these buildings are burned up, we will not wonder why Jesus invested His life in people. If you’ll follow His example, you can’t go wrong. I think of Dan Gardner. We’ve been supporting him in Japan I think for over 35 years. Struggling along, but I’m sure hundreds of souls saved. We have a small part in that. The kids coming to the academy, if they grow up to live for God, that’s what it is about. You school teachers have to remember that. It is a battle; it’s just not some “pie in the sky” thing. Today, raising children for God is a battle. New churches started, kids coming to camp and getting saved. People.
Turn last of all to Isaiah 58. There’s no doubt you have to sacrifice to do what we are talking about. It costs to help people. But that is what life is all about if you are a Christian. Isaiah 58:10 says, “And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday. And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of the paths to dwell in.” Now here are ten promises based on one condition. This idea changed my life.
I remember going to a nursing home in my early twenties, and I noticed how crabby everybody was. There were only a few who were happy. One day it just hit me—most were crabby because they had been selfish in life. They didn’t raise their kids according to the Bible. They were too lazy. They didn’t live for others; they lived for self, gathering everything they could for themselves. And now there was nothing they could do to change it. The only thing they could look forward to was death. The only thing they could look back to that would make them happy is what they had done for others, what they had done for God. And they were miserable. A few happy people had given themselves to God.
The same thing can be seen when you go to a funeral. At the funeral of an average person, even a saved person who lived for self, everybody is going nuts. People think that is normal. No, it is not. I’m not saying you can’t cry quietly at a funeral. You are going to miss them. He was your friend or your loved one. But you are not going to go nuts if they lived for God. You will be thinking, “Praise God for their life. They gave themselves to God. They gave themselves for others. They gave themselves for souls.” Their family is not going to be there bickering and fighting over the inheritance and screaming and yelling. They will be saying, “Praise God for my Mom or my Dad who lived for God and raised me up for God.” Amen?
What do you want? You have just so much time left. What are you going to do with it? Are you thinking you are getting older? Join the club. I’ll tell you something, I have to catch my breath a little more, but I want to do more for God than I did when I was twenty, thirty, or forty. And I believe I ought to. I believe you ought to, if you have any sense.