“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:11-13 ESV).
The 2010 Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints had the words, “Finish Strong” stenciled on their t-shirts as the post-season began. With a fabulous and memorable season so far, and with home field advantage to boot, the coaches and fans alike wanted to ensure there was no let down in play. The shirts were a reminder for the team to “Finish Strong.”
And they did. But just two years after winning the Super Bowl, the NFL levied devastating penalties on certain coaches, management, and players dating back to the 2009/2010 season for ethical violations. A city and a region that had celebrated joyously now grieved collectively with deep sadness, anger, doubt, disbelief, and feelings of helplessness. Rebuilding and restoration remains a work in process.
The idea to “finish strong” is one that resonates deeply in our country, and probably connects us emotionally to everyone on the planet; who wants to finish weak? When our lives, or a particular calling or task are reaching a conclusion, don’t we all want to go out with a bang and not a whimper? Don’t we all want to believe that victory can be snatched from the jaws of defeat?
In Jeremiah 29, God told the Judeans who had been overcome and deported into captivity to Babylon, that they would be restored again. But those hearing the message of hope also knew that their defeat, their current troubles, were from the hand of the same God who had judged them severely for years of disobedience and sin. Like it or not, they had to come to grips with a God of hope and judgment, righteousness and mercy.
And they did return to Jerusalem. God again spoke to them through prophets, but in about 400 BCE, God’s voice became silent.
At the birth of Jesus, the Jewish people were living in their homeland but under the control of the Roman government and not as an autonomous nation; a restoration had occurred, but not to the glory of the former days. Into this scene of political unrest and uncertainty, of conflicting beliefs and practices, and a type of internal captivity, Jesus came and preached a new message of hope and restoration.
Jesus proclaimed that God was going to change things on earth forever. In a sense, Jesus was delivering a message that everyone has the opportunity to finish strong, measured both temporally (in attitude, joy, hope, and peace regardless present circumstances) and eternally, by joining Him and the Father in heaven, becoming partakers with Him of everlasting life and union with God. But He also spoke the truth, and called all persons, the powerful and the weak, to repent from their sins and turn again to God; and Sin can be an unpleasant topic.
On a particular black Friday, Jesus was crucified between two criminals; a crowd of mostly skeptics heckled Him about His grandiose claims of being “one” with the Father and challenging Him to work miracles now. Some of His followers were also in the crowd of onlookers, standing in their own agony as they watched the person they had come to believe in and to love suffering on the cross.
Then on the first Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead. His resurrection emboldened His followers, and through the power and the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was and continues to be preached throughout the world. His messages of temporal and eternal hope are real and vibrant promises that are effective and powerful, for those who remember them, and who stay close to Him who is the “author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
Every follower of Jesus has been assured that they will finish strong; faith in Jesus is the key and sufficient ingredient and He will honor it. A failure to believe in Jesus will also be honored by Him, both temporally and eternally, and no matter how such persons perceive their ending will be, it will not be strong. How long, after all, does a dying thought in the mind of an atheist last?
The year 2015 has so far proven to be a year of interesting and tumultuous unrest and uncertainty in our nation. Riots, murders, and laws passed and overturned. The stridency of voices shouting differences of opinion are shrill and discordant. As a Christian, it saddens me to see such disharmony at work in our country because it reveals we are drifting as a “people” away from God. C. S. Lewis said, “God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.”
For many, the idea of America becoming a “secular” nation seems bold and enlightening; for Christians it is one of deep sorrow. One of my pastors recently astutely observed these troubling times are indicative of deep spiritual problems (Sin) that entered into all mankind with Adam and Eve’s disobedience, but the secular world cannot understand this. Perhaps seeking to bring order to chaos, or hoping to be altruistic or, above all else, seeking to change outcomes, the secular world strives to reach some peace, but in my view they are trying to solve algebra with a cookbook—their paradigm is all wrong.
We are all, apparently, still standing on that hill in Jerusalem, staring at a Savior with deep and disparate feelings—some harboring celebration at overcoming a person who dared to speak about truth and light and how to live life in a better way—a life aligned with the will of God—and others confused and dismayed that their firm foundation seems about to slip away, ignobly going the way of the Dodo bird.
My pastor suggests believers should view the world through biblical lenses. I agree; Christians who remain sharply focused on a biblical world-view stand in the hope of Jesus and His victory, certain that He is working out His plans for our futures. We then preach the good news that He preached, and the same truths, whether such messages are delivered in good times or bad, or by messengers who are imperfect in their delivery.
Our message of a risen Lord is foolishness to unbelievers, but is the power of salvation to those who believe (1 Corinthians 1:18). Finish strong!