The Choice of Eternity
Harry R. Truman (not to be confused with the president Harry S Truman) was born in West Virginia around 1896. A mountain man at heart, he and his family moved to Washington State and settled on a 160-acre tract of land. A veteran of World War I, he miraculously survived when his troop ship was sunk by a German U-boat.
Truman returned home, and eventually opened a lodge on the beautiful shores of spirit lake, at the foot of Mount St. Helens, which he operated for 52 years. He became notorious in the area for drinking, poaching, and stealing, but still managed to operate his lodge until his wife passed away in 1978.
In the March of 1980, the long-dormant volcano began to tremble and quake, and after a few days a vent of steam began to appear. Geologists soon noticed the north slope of the mountain beginning to bulge upward, and predicted that soon the mountain would erupt. They ordered everyone in the area to evacuate, but Truman refused.
When asked why he refused to leave, Truman told reporters “If the mountain goes, I’m going with it. This area is heavily timbered, Spirit Lake is in between me and the mountain, and the mountain is a mile away, the mountain ain’t gonna hurt me.”
The earthquakes became so severe that Truman began to be knocked out of his bed while he slept. Unperturbed, Truman simply moved his mattress to his basement. In response to the scientists dire warnings, he scoffed: “the mountain has shot its wad and it hasn’t hurt my place a bit.”
On May 18, 1980, a 5.1 magnitude earthquake triggered a massive collapse of the north face of the mountain, and the largest debris avalanche in recorded history. A cloud of lava and hot ash exploded out from the mountain with the force of 1,600 atomic bombs, and within seconds Truman’s lodge, along with Truman and his 16 cats, was buried under 150 feet of volcanic debris.
The story of poor Mr. Truman reminds me of another sad story–a story from the early pages of this earth’s history:
Yes, the rumor had been around for a long, long time. Great grandpa Enoch, the great prophet of God, had named his son with the unfinished sentence, “His death shall bring.” That was many centuries ago, and Methuselah was getting old by now. But life went on as usual, and few took any thought to the dark stories of yesteryear. In fact, fewer and fewer people took any thought at all of spiritual things. Life was good—the economy was up, crops were coming in, technology was advancing, and fewer and fewer people felt any need to keep God in their lives. “Religion is for old people” they said. “It’s something they needed, back in the day, but we’ve gotten past that now.” And even the children who were brought up in the fear of God, soon cared little about him, and took wives of those who never loved or served God.
But God had not forgotten:
Genesis 6:5-7 And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
6 And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
7 And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
It says “God saw the wickedness of man.” You know, when we talk about stories like this, it might be easy to think of God as a God of anger—a God of terrible and stern retribution. But when I read these verses, that’s not the picture I see. No, I see a picture of a loving father, who is deeply sorrowful and grieved at the choices of His children. He sees the end of the path they have chosen—a path that would lead to the utter and painful destruction of the world and all of humanity. And it grieved His loving heart to the point that He felt regret that He had ever created humanity.
And yet as He looked at this world, He noticed one man, who had not become totally corrupted by this wickedness.
Genesis 6:8 “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”
Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord—and so God devised a plan, whereby Noah and his family—yes truly anyone who would believe—would be saved.
Hebrews 11:7 “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.”
13 And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.
14 Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.
I can just imagine the conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Noah that week:
Mrs: Noah Dear, why has the lumbar yard been delivering timber up on the back 40 all week? There must be 10 loads!
Noah: Well Dear, I ordered the lumber on Monday. They should have another 10 loads coming before Sabbath.
Mrs:But WHAT are you building? Our home here is plenty big!
Noah: Well honestly, I’m not building a house up there. It’ll be a boat.
Mrs: A BOAT! What do you need a boat for? And ALL that lumber? It looks like you’re building a ship! How will you ever get it down to the water? And what will you pay for it with? You aren’t depleting our retirement savings for this crazy venture, are you?
It must have been hard for Noah to explain to his family, much less the crowds of onlookers that no doubt came to wonder at his enormous mountaintop ship. But day after day, year after year, Noah continued building—and with every stroke of the hammer, he sounded the warning to the doomed world—the warning of a coming flood!
I don’t know, but from reading Genesis, it sounds like Noah didn’t know exactly when the flood would come. God warned him of the flood, and gave Noah detailed plans to build the ark, and the promise that would be established with his family. But just like the faithful of all ages, Noah had to continue from that day on faith, trusting year after year that God would be true to His word.
As year after year came and went, old Methuselah kept getting older and older. Soon, we knew, he would have to die. It could happen any day. And his name? “His death shall bring…” What would it bring? The fulfillment of Enoch’s prophecy, found in Jude 14-15: “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all.” The longest man to live had been Jared, but he died at 962 years old. Methuselah was nearly this old already. 961, 962, 963, 964—Nobody had lived this long before. Parts of Noah’s great ship were well over 100 years old now, but still Noah was preaching—“God will judge the world! Come into the ark and be safe.” But nobody was listening. Nobody but Noah and his family.
Matthew 24:38-39 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
Methuselah was getting old and feeble now. 967, 968, 969—and then he died.
One day, not long after, a strange sight appears. Animals and birds flock toward the ark from all directions. No one is guiding them, but they march in orderly fashion, in twos and sevens, up and into the ark. The people turn and watch in amazement! What was this? For an instant, they remember all the preaching of Noah, and fear strikes their hearts. But then someone begins to jeer– “Oh look, Old Noah is starting a zoo!” Nervous laughter ripples through the crowd, and they make their way back to their homes, laughing and mocking at the solemn warnings.
“Friends! Brothers and Sisters!” Noah calls after them. “Come into the ark before it’s too late! God has shown me that this earth will be destroyed by a great flood. No one can survive outside this ark. God has led these animals here, but there is plenty of room in this ark for all who want to be saved! Come in before it’s too late!”
But none would heed his warning. Only Noah and his family entered the ark, and “the Lord shut him in.” (Genesis 7:16)
Genesis 7:10 “And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth.”
“19 And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.
20 Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.
21 And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man:
22 All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.”
I’ve called this message The Choice of Eternity, but it could also be called The Choice of Mercy or The Choice of Grace. God is Love. Because of His love, and his desire to enter into loving relationship with His creation, He has endowed His creatures with the freedom of choice—full freedom. Though He knows the end from the beginning, yet in His love He restrains His sovereign power by allowing us to choose. Those choices have a real and tangible impact on our future, and that of others and the world we live in. Some, like a watershed, can altar the entire course of our lives. But besides the big choices, some of the most important choices we face are the choices we face every day—the little choices that form our habits and character—the choices that are deciding in this very moment.
The story of this world is a story of God’s love, mercy, and grace, revealed in a world where God’s created beings are constantly choosing to rebel against Him. Just like the story of Noah, in every age, God sends a special message of mercy to a world hurtling on toward self-destruction. God won’t force his mercy on anyone, but he holds out His offer of grace within reach of all, and he pleads for one and all to choose to accept His grace.
This is the message of Noah’s ark: Throughout the Bible, the distinction between the righteous and the wicked—the saved and the lost—has hinged on a single decision. A decision to walk in the path of obedience, and a decision to accept an offer of grace. Ironically, it’s not the same decision for each person or for each time, but the distinction right and wrong, good and evil has always hinged on a single choice.
Adam and Eve were given one command: don’t eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Sure, God had many requirements—don’t murder, to steal, honor the Sabbath—but those weren’t the deciding test. Adam and Eve weren’t even tempted with these things. The one key decision was about eating fruit. And sadly, they both failed by choosing to eat. (Genesis 3)
In the days of Noah, the decision was different. Noah preached for 120 years of the coming flood. The decision was simple: get on the ark. But only his family did. (Genesis 6-7)
At the time of the Exodus from Egypt, when the tenth and last plague fell on the nation, a destroying angel came to kill all the firstborn of the land. The decision was simple: Stay in the house where the blood was on the doorpost. As long as the first-born stayed in the house, he was safe. Those who failed to apply the blood, or those who ventured outside, were slain. (Exodus 12)
Jonah preached a message of coming judgment to the city of Nineveh, and to his surprise and dismay, the inhabitants of the city repented of their evil deeds. They demonstrated their repentance by humbling themselves, sitting in sackcloth and ashes, and turning back to God.
The message of John the Baptist was “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
Truly the coming of Jesus was the greatest message of mercy—the greatest picture of God’s love—this world has ever known. The message of John the Baptist, the message of Jesus and the apostles—hinged on this one choice: believe in Jesus.
Acts 15:31 “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”
The message of the apostles was the message of Jesus, crucified and risen again, who is our Savior and Lord.
Acts 4:12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
This is the truth that I hope is becoming very very clear today: that in every age, there is one overriding decision that God calls upon His people to make. This decision may not look the same in every age, but at its heart it’s a very practical decision to accept His message of mercy and grace to a sinful and fallen world.
2 Peter 1:12 “For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth.”
In the words of the famous hymn by James Russell Lowell:
Once to ev’ry man and nation Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood, For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah, Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever ‘Twixt that darkness and that light.
Then to side with truth is noble When we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, And ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses, While the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue Of the faith they had denied.
Jesus said that, just before the Second Coming, conditions in this world would mirror the conditions that existed before the flood. Could it be that God will have a similar test—a call to enter His ark of safety before the flood of destruction falls upon an unrepentant world?
Today, many people in this world have no problem confessing Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Certainly this truth has lost none of its power, but Jesus also said in Matthew 7:21 “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”
The Book of Revelation describes a time when God’s people will face an unprecedented trial—a great showdown between the forces of good and evil, symbolized by the followers of a Lamb, and the worshipers of a great beast and his image.
Revelation 13:15-16 “And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads.”
What is it that separates the true and false worshipers in this great end-time crisis? Just like in the time of Noah, it’s a choice. A choice to accept God’s grace, or a choice to depend upon ourselves. A choice to receive the seal or God, or to refuse the seal and receive the mark of the beast. Those who receive God’s seal, and refuse the mark, will face the threat of death by God’s enemies. But those who receive the mark will face God’s judgment against the terrible systems of tyranny, abuse, and rebellion that set themselves against God.
Just as Noah preached of a coming flood, so today we see a special significance in Jesus promise, “I will come again.” The signs of His coming are rapidly fulfilling, and we stand at the threshold of eternity. God has sent us, as His messengers, into this world with a special message, found in Revelation 14:7 “Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.” … “Babylon is fallen” (v. 8) And finally the choice: will you worship the beast, and receive his mark, or will you be part of that group who has “the patience of the saints: [who] keep the commandments of God, and [who have] the faith of Jesus”? (v. 12)
Just like the time of Noah, my friends, another flood is coming. Not a flood of water, but just the same, God will cut short the work of wickedness in this world, and only those whose hearts are loyal to Him will be spared in the coming judgment.
My friends, what is your choice?
Hebrews 4:7 “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.”
The choice, today, to enter the ark, is the choice to follow God entirely. The choice to trust implicitly in Jesus, and to demonstrate that loyalty by keeping all of God’s commandments—including the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath day.
This message is at the foundation of this movement of Seventh-day Adventist Christians—I don’t mean the Sabbath only, but this whole message. The message that Jesus is coming soon. The message that, like the day’s of Noah, we can’t be doing “business as usual.”
My friends, the judgments of God are about to fall upon this world—indeed the day of judgment has already begun. How must we live our lives, in view of the solemn times in which we live? I fear that far to many of us say within our hearts, “My Lord delays his coming.” Noah didn’t know when the flood would come. Today, we still don’t know the day nor the hour, but we have Jesus’ promise that He is coming soon!
Are we, by the choices we make, choosing to build an ark, or are we eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, heedless to the solemn times in which we live?
Joshua 24:15 “And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”