History gives us sobering examples of people making their final decisions for good or evil.
by Joe Crews
Perhaps you’ve heard about the city of Pompeii, which nestled in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius in old Italy long ago. In A.D. 79 that mountain simply exploded with volcanic fury, and millions of tons of molten lava came pouring down upon Pompeii, completely inundating it and wiping out all its inhabitants. A friend of mine has walked over the hardened ash and pumice that still covers the excavated ruins of that ancient city. He described the contorted postures of the victims whose forms have been perfectly preserved by molding the space occupied by their decayed bodies.
I’ve often thought, If the stones of the street could speak, what a story they would have to tell about that last night on Earth for Pompeii. The whole thing seems to come up before me as I think about it—the experience of an entire city full of people, overtaken without warning and thrust into eternity, whether they were ready or not. What will it be like when you and I face that same experience? Will it find us clinging to the same old sins that many of them were obviously committing as they were swept away by the sudden deluge of death?
Doubtless, many in Pompeii heard that initial explosion and had time to look up to see the terrifying wall of lava just before it engulfed them. We know nothing about their thoughts, but the graphic physical positions of their bodies reveal that sin had become a science, and few, if any, were thinking of death or the hereafter.
God’s Call to Pompeii
I wonder what Paul must have felt when he preached his gospel of grace to the inhabitants of Pompeii. Surely in his ranging over the chief cities of the Roman Empire he would have visited that center of vice and evil repute. But it is highly unlikely that the apostle received any favorable hearing from the dwellers in that seaport sin-city. Perhaps they expelled him out of hand, and Paul had to shake the dust from his feet as he departed.
It was from Pompeii that General Titus had drawn many of his soldiers for his infamous assault on Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Perhaps it was one of the citizens of Pompeii who threw the flaming torch which burned the magnificent temple to its foundations.
But now those veterans of foreign wars have returned to their home place to live out their years of retirement in unrestrained indulgence. Slowly the cup of iniquity fills to the very brim, and on a night of unusual revelry and drunkenness, the angel of death flies low over the streets of Pompeii. It is not hard to imagine how the final call of God was extended to every man, woman and child on that last night. Before the angel of mercy folded its wings, the Holy Spirit pleaded at the door of each heart. Long after the music and dancing had ended, people tossed on their beds, wrestling with the powerful convictions of conscience, but one by one those tender impressions were suppressed and denied. The voice of the Spirit was drowned out by the fleshly clamor for more excitement and sin. The fate of Pompeii was sealed.
Lingering Over the Call
The Bible gives us another striking illustration of the last night on Earth in the book of Genesis. A city was to be wiped out of existence because of its total abandonment to the perversions of iniquity. On the eve of its destruction, Lot made a final visit to his daughters and their Sodomite husbands who had made their home in the midst of the doomed city. But his urgent pleas were ridiculed as groundless fears. The Bible records that “he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law.” Genesis 19:14. They actually laughed at the old man as he wept over their unconcern. How different it would have been had they known that it was indeed a judgment message from God. Eagerly they would have responded and hastened out of Sodom had they truly believed that it was their last night on earth.
But they didn’t know, and they didn’t believe. Most of us will never recognize when that fatal moment approaches in our own lives. Many are snatched by sudden accident and death without a second’s notice, much less a 24-hour alert. But suppose you did know that you had exactly two months or two weeks or two days. I’ve heard people say, “Oh, if I had that knowledge ahead of time, I could easily give up all my bad habits and make my decision to follow Christ fully.” Of course, but the truth is that none of us are privy to that information, and for many who are reading these lines, that last night is much nearer than we can think or imagine.
How very clever Satan is in exploiting this personal area of the unknown in each one of us. He well recognizes that procrastination is his most effective weapon in causing people to be lost. The longer the decision is postponed, the easier it is to wait a little longer, until finally procrastination turns into a lethal addiction. The will waxes weaker and weaker as delay saps the initiative and makes it less and less likely that the individual will act before it is too late.
The Bible has some very sobering things to say about lingering over the call of God. When Paul reasoned with Felix about righteousness and judgment, we are told that the governor trembled and promised to call for Paul when he had a more “convenient season.” That better time never came, and as far as we know, Felix went down into a Christless grave at the end of his life. King Agrippa was also deeply convicted as he listened to Paul’s testimony about Christ. He cried out, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” Acts 26:28. What a tragedy that, with all the trembling and conviction, neither of those Roman rulers actually moved to obey what they knew to be right. “Almost” is not enough.
Sometimes individuals are faced with choices that must be made quickly that will affect the entire future direction of their lives. In these rare instances (and perhaps they are not as rare as we think) that golden moment of opportunity flashes into focus, remains only a few precious moments and then disappears forever. It seems patently true that Felix and Agrippa faced the most significant and favorable opportunity to choose life over death, and they blew it. They waited too long, and their conviction faded and disappeared.
What About Us
Men and women do the same thing today. They wait for more convenient circumstances—a different job, retirement or financial security. They make promises to themselves and others that they will surrender to Christ and obey the truth just as soon as the time is right. Somebody else—Satan—hears those promises and he immediately begins to manipulate events that will make that right moment impossible. Those people keep waiting and waiting and waiting, and many of them will be waiting when the water turns to blood and probation’s door has closed on the human race. No wonder the Bible declares that “Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” 2 Corinthians 6:2.
When the flood came and the door of the ark closed, it did not matter how near or how far a person happened to be at that moment. Those who were one foot outside that door were just as lost as those who were miles away. After 120 years of pleading, the Spirit of God was withdrawn from the earth, the hand of God closed the door, and the fate of a world was fixed and settled. Does that have anything to do with you and I today? Indeed, it does. Because Jesus said, “As the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” Matthew 24:37.
Christ was referring to the end-time in which we now live. He said, “So shall it be.” Are there similarities today with the pre-flood culture and lifestyle? We are told that “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Genesis 6:5. Does that appraisal of man before the flood match the perverted picture of Noah’s modern descendants?
For the answer to that question consult your morning newspaper and the local TV guide. Iniquity is rampant. Crime is out of control. Terrorists strike in unexpected places. No one would question that evil imagination marks the present age with its harvest of violence and lawlessness.
Is there also evidence that the Holy Spirit is striving with human hearts and confronting multitudes with their final invitation of mercy? As an evangelist, I can bear witness that there is a present raging controversy revolving around every living soul. Some who are reading these words are on the verge of making a decision that can mean life or death, and at the same time, Satan plays upon your ungrounded fears to try to hold you back from an all-out commitment. You are being tempted, like Felix, to wait for a more convenient season, but such will never come. To linger now is to become a part of the vast majority who were destroyed in the flood and who represent those who will be unprepared when Jesus comes again.
Are you one who has been postponing the day of decision, that unreserved surrender of your will? Please let me address you for a moment. There is a small chance that you may be right and that you will have another opportunity—but it is only a chance! There is another chance that you are dead wrong. You are gambling over the salvation of your soul. You are playing a deadly game of Russian roulette over eternal life. Every day that passes, the stakes go higher and higher, and your chances of winning become less and less. The cards are stacked against you. Why gamble that you will have another chance in the future? You don’t have to gamble. You have a chance right now.
The door of the ark is still open, and it’s only a step inside. Why not settle the uncertainty this very moment? Surrender your will and say “yes” to the loving Saviour, who longs to give you His peace and assurance..
The late Joe Crews was the director of Amazing Facts, Inc., a global evangelistic outreach. Adapted from Joe Crews’ booklet, The Last Night on Earth.