Almost Too Late

Almost Too Late

Experience the gospel story through the eyes of an unlikely witness–one who waited until it was almost too late. Join Pastor Daniel for a walk through the wildflowers along the banks of the Big South Fork as he shares a first-person narrative of the gospel story.

This Sermon in the Woods was recorded along the Sheltowee Trace near Yahoo Falls in McCreary County, Kentucky.

This message was originally written by Daniel & Kristina in the spring of 2018. It was presented in our local church district in Stearns and Monticello, and subsequently revised and presented May 27, 2018 at the Kentucky Tennessee Campmeeting Morning Devotional. You can Listen Online to the 2018 campmeeting presentation here

In 2021, Pastor Daniel recorded this message again as a “Sermon in the Woods” for Easter Weekend, Sabbath April 3, 2021.

I was almost too late. I was searching for meaning in life. I wanted to live for something—to believe in something. I had great parents, who taught me well. They taught me the Torah. They taught me who my fathers were. They taught me what it meant to be a son of Abraham.

As they taught me the prophecies of the coming Messiah, I felt in my heart the pride of every Israelite youth—the pride of knowing that one day, a King would come who would deliver us from our oppressors!

And so, one day I heard of the new itinerant preacher, walking through Galilee and Judea, preaching of what He called the “Kingdom of God.” I went out to listen. His name was simply Jesus. Jesus—which means “Jehovah Saves.”

Like so many in Israel, my heart were stirred by his words. He told two stories that really spoke to me in my search for meaning. The first one was about a man who discovered buried treasure in a field. When he found it, he sold everything he had to purchase that field, so the treasure could be his.

The second story was about a merchant, who finally found one amazing Pearl of Great Price. He also sold everything he had, in order to own that amazing pearl.

Jesus said those two stories represented the Kingdom of Heaven. Wow—if the Kingdom of heaven is filled with treasure like that, I definitely want to be part of that kingdom!

One day, after many long hours of teaching, Jesus asked His disciples to feed the crowd of us – with next to nothing. The only thing they could find was 5 pieces of bread and two small fish! With bated breath I watched as Jesus prayed, and then began to break the food into pieces.

“Maybe He will at least get to eat something.” I mused. But, wait! The pieces kept coming! Soon, the disciples were bringing large baskets of food near me. I ate and ate and ate—and so did everyone else. Finally, after five-thousand people were stuffed, there were 12 baskets leftover. Surely, this must be our King!

In fact, we tried to make him King that very evening. Just think—what better Messiah and King to ask for than one who can health the sick, inspire a crowd, dare to break tradition, and produce food out of nothing. We would be undefeatable! The Romans wouldn’t stand a chance!

But, Jesus stopped our efforts. Instead, He sent us home, then, quietly slipped out of our reach.

We even thought, for a time, that perhaps this Jesus of Nazareth would be the long-hoped-for Messiah, who would raise up an army and deliver Israel from the Romans. We saw him work miracles, and we knew that, if He wanted to, He could have easily delivered us from the Roman power.

The next day, we heard him again. He was saying so many strange things. Instead of trying to raise up an army, He called himself the Bread of Life. He spoke about how those who follow Him would live by eating his flesh and drinking his blood. He said so many things that were so hard to understand.

I was so confused. So, I went to pay a visit to Malachi, our families most loved and trusted priest at the local synagogue. He had even known my parents before I was born!

I poured out my heart to Malachi. I told him of my search for meaning in life, and how my time with Jesus had given me hope, and a new future. I told him how I always felt a peace in Jesus’ presence, and I felt drawn to become more like him.

“But I’m so confused!” I blurted out, as I bit my lip. “Jesus isn’t making any move to become king. Am I being led astray?”

One look at Malachi’s crimson face told me the answer. “This Jesus is an impostor!” He shouted! “His teaching is extremely dangerous. Many people are being deceived. Don’t let him deceive you—He is not the Messiah we are looking for!

“Didn’t you hear his words, just the other day? He said, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up!’ What ‘Messiah’ would speak of destroying our beautiful temple in Jerusalem. You’d better forget this foolishness! In fact, if you keep going to him, I’ll have you and your family thrown out of the synagogue!”

That settled it for me. The priests and rulers were against him, and already I was having my doubts. So I stopped going to hear Jesus. I was back to square one, searching for a messiah, and searching for some meaning in life.

John 6:66 “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.”

It wasn’t long before a friend told me he had found what we were looking for. He was a great leader—and he lived for a cause. Like us, he wanted nothing more than to see Israel rise to world greatness.

He was also named Jesus, but this new Jesus was everything that Jesus of Nazareth was not. The other Jesus was gentle, this man was tough. The other Jesus was so peaceful and devoted. This Jesus was fun and exciting to be around! He didn’t just talk about things, this Jesus was a man of action! If anyone had what it would take to raise up a revolt against the Romans, this Jesus had it! He wouldn’t stop at anything to get his way.

We followed him. We believed in him, and we imitated him. It was exciting to be part of something big, and soon we found ourselves, with him, at the head of a movement—a revolution. Soon, we imagined, we would have an army big enough to raise up a revolt.

It was fun to live like we were kings. Respect for authority—what was that? If only they all knew that soon enough, we would be heads of state in the new kingdom of Israel. And we went along living, for a while, like we were well above the law. We supported ourselves by preying off of those we saw as our enemies.

But all too soon, our wicked lifestyle caught up with us. One night, we were all arrested, and thrown in jail. All of us, including Jesus.

We’d tried to escape, but to no avail. And what a dreadful, horrible fate awaited us!

Day after day, we waiting. And thought, and stewed, and raged at the guards or anyone who came near us. If I could have chewed through those iron bars with my teeth, I would have, just to be free once more.

Early one morning, we heard a terrible commotion in the courthouse. It sounded like a mob was ready to tear the place down. We heard the shouting – “crucify Him, crucify Him!”

Who could they have been talking about? Surly a terrible criminal, because even our own fearless leader hadn’t raised such a mob at his trial.

Moments later, a guard came to the cell and pulled Jesus out, leaving us all the more dreading our fate.

We didn’t have long to wait. Soon the they came for us, too. When they brought us out, we tried again to escape, but they threw us on the ground, and dragged us into the courtroom.

As we came in, we heard the crowd screaming, “Away with this Man!” Who could this be—a terrible person indeed!

As we came into view, we could see on the balcony, two men standing bound in chains. One was our Jesus—son of the father. As our eyes focused on the scene, I realized recognized them both. The other was Jesus of Nazareth. Two men—Jesus of Nazareth, and Jesus, son of the father. Both leaders, but so, so different. The Jesus of Nazareth had such a peace on His face—just as I remembered him. Though his back was lacerated by the flogging; though he wore a crown of thorns, yet he looked all the more like a king. I knew in an instant that he had been condemned only because of the jealousy of the priests and rabbis. Jesus son of the father, who had been our leader, stood next to him there like a coward—raging at the mob and straining to break free.

“Listen!” A hush fell over the mob. Pilot was speaking.

“Which of these two men would you like me to release to you?” He asked.

“Release to us Jesus, son of the father!” the mob shouted.

Pilate looked bewildered. “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”

The mob was frantic, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” they screamed back. “Crucify Jesus of Nazareth!”

“Why? What evil has He done?” Pilate asked.

But the mob was insistent, and wouldn’t relent. We saw the defiant look on our leader’s face as he was led out and released.

As the doors closed, the guard dragged us out, threw us on the ground and threw a cross on each of us. We were expected to carry our own crosses to our place of execution.

As we made our way, cursing and swearing, we looked ahead to see Jesus. Not our Jesus, like we would have imagined, but Jesus of Nazareth—the one called the Christ. It seemed so strange that we didn’t hear him cursing. He was so unlike our Jesus, this gentle Jesus of Nazareth. It was kind of shocking to see him there—his back lacerated from the flogging, struggling under that heavy cross, but not uttering a word.

In fact, He was so weak, He couldn’t even carry the cross. He kept falling to the ground, and finally the soldiers grabbed a man from the crowd and forced him to carry the cross for Jesus.

Now, don’t think we were ready to give up without a struggle. It took several guards to hold us down as they fastened our arms and legs to those crosses. But with Jesus, it was different. He didn’t struggle and try to run away. It was almost like He just let them do it. And the look on His face—that look of peace and kindness—I thought, surely he doesn’t care for even those nasty Roman guards who are nailing him to that cross!

When they rammed those crosses in the ground, my friend and I turned the air blue with curses as we gasped for our breath.

Then, they raised his cross, and I saw the look of agony on His face as they thrust it down in its place. But instead of curses, I heard him gasp out the words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

What kind of man was this, anyway? Here they are, killing Him, and he is praying for them?

We heard the crowd jeering, “Hey—if you are the Christ, save yourself.” And I’ll admit, we chimed in, too. “If you are really the Christ, save yourself, and save us too, while you’re at it!” After all, what did we have to lose?

We watched as the soldiers nailed the sign over Jesus’ head: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

We watched as the soldiers divided Jesus’ clothes, tearing them apart at the seams. When they came to his tunic, they said, “Let’s not tear it apart, let’s gambled for it.” There, while men hung dying, they busied themselves with a game over his last piece of clothing.

My friend, on the other cross, kept jeering at Jesus on the cross, but as I hung there, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. This man carries himself, well, like the Son of God. This man prays for those who are killing him. Even Pilate had said, “I find no fault in him.”

I can hear the people walking by. Of course, the scribes and pharisees—even Malachi—are jeering at Him. But then there are those who were healed, and others who had seen His works, crying and praying as they saw him on the cross. In this moment, things are beginning to make sense. I see what a wicked life I have lived, and this man has done nothing wrong. Could it be that this man is, indeed, the Son of God?

Again, I hear my friend mocking Jesus, “Hey, if you are the Messiah, save yourself, and us!”

I can’t stand it any longer.

Luke 23:40-41 “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.”

As I’m hanging here gasping for breath, I’m thinking over my life. I’m thinking about the cause I’ve lived for—the cause of our nation. Yes, it was a cause worth living for, but really I’ve followed my own way. I’ve gotten caught up in the fun life, in following the fun Jesus. Now I am dying, not for any cause at all, but only for my own misdeeds. I look over at this Man, Jesus of Nazareth, dying next to me. I think of everything I know about this man, and I can feel the Holy Spirit speaking to my mind. His kindness. His love. His peace-loving character—that pacifism that had caused me to reject his teaching. I think of the kingdom of Heaven, that He has spoken of so much. I thought it was foolishness, then. But now I’m longing for something more.

Yes, this life is done. It will only be a few short hours, at most, until my remains will be rotting in a grave. Already the vultures are circling over our heads. But another life awaits me. A time of judgment, not in this life, but in the life to come. How will I fare? I have lived my life as if this was the only one to live. But here is one who lived as though this life didn’t matter, in comparison to a life hereafter. Suddenly, I heard the words of Jesus of Nazareth, echoing down memory’s halls. Words I’d heard him speak 3 years ago:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

For they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

For they shall inherit the 1 earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

For they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

For they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

For they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

For they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

(Matthew 5:3-12)

Now, it all makes sense! Jesus of Nazareth—the one right here next to me—is the Messiah!

His Kingdom is not of this world – His mission wasn’t to release us from the Romans. He came to save us from sin! Oh, if only I hadn’t listened to Malachi. If only I had believed in this Jesus sooner! If only I hadn’t let my own pride get in the way… But, despite my wrong choices, despite being led astray, God has given me another chance—right here on the cross, on this last day of my life!

Speaking to Jesus, I cry out, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Almost instantly, I hear the reply “Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Oh, I can’t tell you the peace and joy in my heart and soul! He didn’t have to do it. He had every right to spit back at me, seeing how I had rejected him and lived life on my own. But He not only spoke to me—He gave me a promise. And he gave me hope. He took my sin, and he changed my life. He gave me more than I ever dared to ask for—a relationship with himself, and a place in His eternal kingdom.

The Jesus I had followed—what I shallow life he had offered me! Money and pleasure, and a cause for this world—yes, but in the end it brought me to this shameful cross. But he is no longer my Jesus. No, Jesus, son of the father, is no longer my leader. Though he walks free for a few short days, I will gladly die today, under the banner of my new Jesus—Jesus Christ, my Lord, my Savior, and my King—Jesus, the son of the Heavenly Father. For though I die today, yet I know—assuredly—that I will be with Him in paradise forevermore.

My friend, what about you? Which Jesus have you been following? Have you followed the “saviors” of this world? Social Causes. Money. Relationships. Careers. None of these are “bad” things, but my friends, when you come to the place where I am—when you stand on the brink of eternity—what will all these things matter?

My friends, there is only one Jesus that really matters to me now. He is the one and only one who has saved me—and who has promised to spend eternity with me. It was almost too late, but He found me, and I cling to His promise.

What about you, my friend? Will you accept Him, before it’s too late?

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