by Matthew C. Harrison
As happens every month, I was told that the deadline for The Lutheran Witness was at hand. “What’s the theme?” I asked again. “Time” was the response. Hmmmmm.
Time. Does the Bible say that much about time? My thoughts immediately moved to mortality. My wife’s lovely mother has just passed from this vale of tears to eternity. I’d known her for 40 years. A blessed Christian mother, as lovely inside as out, who believed deeply in Jesus her Savior, loved studying the Word of God and prayed for us every day — all with joy and laughter and strength of faith along the way. The last year had been very difficult for her, and for her caring husband and children. Not two weeks ago I was face to face with death, again.
Time often strikes as Law. Saying goodbye to loved ones is bitter. Contemplating one’s own mortality is sobering, to say the least. I’ve been by the bedside of dying loved ones. I’ve completed the death watch with many parishioners as a pastor. I’ve sung many Easter hymns alone with dying Christians, and with grieving family present. I, we, they, believed and believe in Christ. But death is bitter.
My time on earth is now. It’s but a flash and gone. I think of all the generations past. What a strange privilege it is to be alive now! And how small I feel! James 4:14 is truth: “You do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time (literally, as a “little phenomenon”) and then vanishes.”
Walking through the excavated ruins of Herculaneum in Italy, frozen in time by the ash of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 70, I was struck by how very similar life was then — the carpentry (paneled wood doors in homes), provisions for water and sewage, art, decorated homes, flooring, social life, alcohol, debauchery, philosophy, hedonism, social status, wealth, poverty, trade, markets and restaurants. Despite all our technology today, there is finally “nothing new under the sun.” And death is ever present. These thoughts of mortality render me melancholy. That’s what time as Law gets you.
Nevertheless, the Bible has a shocking plethora of things to say about time, and much of it is of the blessed Gospel! In fact, it lifts the pall on time and reveals Christ in eternity.
- Jesus Christ is the One who rules time and eternity. “To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 25).
- God has ordered all time, and at just the right time, sent His Son for us. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law” (Gal. 4:4). “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you” (1 Peter 1:20). “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). The Father sent Jesus at just the right time. Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Tim. 2:6).
- Eternity is near. “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Rev. 1:3).
- Struggles with the world are part of living in time. “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions” (Jude 18).
- Time without Jesus is wasted on passions that lead to hell. “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry” (1 Peter 4:3).
- Times of trial are purposeful. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6).
- Time with Christ is time looking to a blessed eternity. “Live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2).
- The time we have on this earth is to be purposefully lived as Christians. “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (1 Peter 1:17).
- God Himself, Creator of time, protects us in our earthly walk, preparing us for eternity. And we “by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).
- God promises to be with us through time. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (literally: “at just the right time”) (Heb. 4:16).
- Christ bids us hold to Him in faith, believe His Word and go to church. It is possible to fall away. “And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away” (Luke 8:13).
- Paul’s apostolic blessing covers our lives on this earth. “May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all” (2 Thess. 3:16).
- Christians are to be wise about the time we have. “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time” (Col. 4:5).
- We are to be sober about the world in which we live. “Making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16).
- We live in blessed hope and optimism, even in the face of death, because God has “a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10).
- Now is the time for us to believe and to tell others of Jesus. “For he says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).
- While our flesh looks at time as morbidity, by the Spirit we behold life to come. “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:11). “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).
- The preaching of John the Baptizer and Jesus is as urgent and relevant today for us as it was for its first hearers. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
— Pastor Harrison
The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison is president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.