We’ve seen a lot of natural disasters lately – if Covid wasn’t enough, there have also been fires and floods, earthquakes and tornadoes across the world.
Here in Australia, for bushfire season we have a rating system (we have a similar one for floods):
- No Rating (ie nothing going on)
- Moderate (plan and prepare)
- High (be ready to act)
- Extreme (take action now to protect your life and property)
- Catastrophic (leave immediately)
There is another step in this rating that you only hear on the news and they must be the most terrifying words you could hear:
“Too late to leave”
Now people here live in remote areas and in high bushfire season, fires move fast. By the time people have got the information and have decided to leave, the roads may already be cut off.
There are some things though that give us more time to make a decision – we just might not want to know it.
In the book of Isaiah, the prophet is warning that time is up for Judah and Israel. First, Israel – The Assyrian army is going to come and wipe out the northern kingdom that earlier had split away from Judah, and had been worshipping pagan gods.
Usually, the message of the prophets is to repent, which they do (eventually) and, with God’s enormous patience, the people are saved by God’s infinite mercy. In Isaiah 6:10-11 however, God says “Make the heart of this people calloused; make their eyes dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turned and be healed.”
Huh? God doesn’t want them to repent?
No – because the “too late to leave” signal has already sounded. The wheels of the Assyrian invasion had already been put in motion.
We imagine that God ‘s patience wears out and judgement is immediate, as it had been in the wilderness when he sent plagues or snakes etc (cf. Numbers 21:4-7). However, this judgement is on a grander scale. It affects a whole kingdom. So there is a gap between the limit of God’s patience (where he sets the wheels of judgement in motion) and the judgement occurring.
Since judgement is happening, the people are doomed, and Isaiah is told that they can’t repent because judgement is happening.
It’s too late to leave.
The time to decide to repent was earlier. As Jesus is quoted in Matthew as saying in 24:38, “..in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”
Thankfully, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
But there is a common assumption that when we die we go to the pearly gates of heaven and Peter decides if we’re good enough to get in.
If you are a Christian reading this, it’s not going to be a great surprise to you that this is not the case. At that point, it is too late. The time to make a decision was before that.
At some point, we will see Jesus, either because our mortal time is up or because he returns to judge the living and the dead. We don’t know when that will happen but when it does, it’s too late to make a decision.
God, in his great mercy, has given us time – time to make a decision, and time to help others make a decision. If you knew someone was in the path of a bushfire, you would surely warn them before a “too late to leave” alert came out.
This doesn’t mean we stand on street corners with a placard warning that the end of the world is nigh – but it does mean we should feel a sense of urgency to reach people. We can help people to plan and prepare and be ready to act. God prepares the way for us and he already knows his chosen – but we can be part of the plan to reach them.
Invite someone to church, be open about going to church at the weekend or what you’re doing in Bible study (I am at work and I have found a lot of Christians I didn’t know were believers, and have had the opportunity to talk about the gospel twice as people asked me what it is that I believe), read Sam Chan’s book How to Talk About Jesus (without being THAT guy). Remember – their salvation is not your responsibility, but we are part of the plan. There are so many things we can do that are gentle and respectful but provide clear avenues for people to find out more.
Also, pray for a person or specific group of people every day – and pray for opportunity, pray for boldness and pray for the words to say! Sometimes the only words you need are “Would you like to come to church with me?”