Last Night

Scripture: 2 Peter 2:21
The story of Pompeii being covered by a volcano teaches us about being ready for another day which marks the end of the world.
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On the morning of August 24 in the year A.D. 79 the citizens of Pompeii, Italy awakened to an ordinary summer day. The city, with a population of almost 20,000, was among the larger cities of that century. Pompeii was located near the west coast of Italy, about 125 miles southeast of Rome. About six miles to the north of Pompeii the beautiful volcanic Mt. Vesuvius towered above the city into the beautiful sunlit sky. This appeared to be the beginning of just another ordinary day for the people of this thriving pleasure city in Italy.

Suddenly what appeared to be a loud thunderclap split the unclouded heavens, as if the voice of God had spoken. This was followed immediately by a great explosion as though the entire mountain top on old Vesuvius would crack wide open. In shorter time than it takes to tell the story, a rain of death began to fall upon the 20,000 inhabitants of Pompeii. Great bomb like formations of pumice, forged in the volcano's fiery furnace, dropped like rain on the doomed city. Walls were smashed, roofs splintered, and streets were buried in the avalanche. It appeared that the mountain would destroy the entire world. The inhabitants fled through the city streets. An eerie darkness was everywhere. The bright noon-day sun was hidden by the continuing rain of volcanic pumice and ash. Many refused to leave their homes. They would take refuge within the city, counting on their homes to save them. But the effort proved futile!

Those in the streets found the going almost impossible. The rocks and ash were falling faster and the streets and walkways soon became piled high. Like snow in a blizzard, the ashes soon piled itself against doors and in passage ways. Soon the sea of rock was piled higher than the windows, then past the eaves, then over the rooftops. Pompeii lay dying! But still the avalanche continued. Within three days the proud, prosperous city was transformed into a huge burial vault, sealed beneath more than twenty feet of rock and ash. In this silent tomb lay l6,000 of the inhabitants of the city. Less than 20% had escaped!

For centuries the city lay buried, almost forgotten. About 200 years ago, French workmen accidentally came across some of the ruins of the city. However it was not until the past half century that the full story has been known. Today the archaeologist is finding the remains of this civilization of nearly 2,000 years ago, preserved in their molten tomb. Almost as though the judgment books of heaven had been opened before the eyes of men, the inhabitants of Pompeii have been preserved in their last act of life, even to the very expressions on their face. The business man, the rich man clutching his gold in a vain attempt to "take it with him", a mother attempting to shield her child from the fall of ashes and rocks, the last frenzied moment of a man who crouched beside the door that would not open and set him free, the beast of burden, laden with a few possessions as a family attempted to find someplace of safety. The entire picture is still preserved across two millenniums of time. For the 16,000 who perished that day in August so long ago, there was no place to hide. In a moment when they least expected it, judgment had come to them. There was no escape, no place to hide from its result. The few, who escaped could count their safety to the fact that they had made their move at the very first sign of trouble. They had not tarried nor waited for a more convenient time. They had moved forward and their lives were spared. But how tragically few they were who escaped!

I wonder how Paul felt as he visited Pompeii to preach the Gospel. We know that Paul ranged up and down the Roman Empire with his message, and doubtless, he visited the ancient pleasure city of Pompeii. As the center of Roman festivity and sin, it would have resisted the preaching of Paul. I can imagine that he turned away from it with sorrow. History tells us that many of the soldiers of Titus' army had made their home in Pompeii. Only nine years before the great destruction, they had marched on Jerusalem, desolating and destroying the holy place. Surely the spirit of God must have worked with greater power in the city of Pompeii on the night of destruction than ever before. Many were unable to sleep comfortably because of the pricking of conscience, but finally the voice of the spirit was drowned in the hilarity of sin.

We have another Bible example of the last night on earth in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. In this case, God sent two angels to warn the inhabitants of that city. They were committing the most flagrant sins of immorality and blasphemy. Only one man believed the message of the angels. That man Lot, hurried to the homes of his children and told them the startling news, but they laughed at him and mocked at his fears. In anguish of heart, Lot had to abandon his daughters to the fate of the fire. Oh! what a difference it would have made if those daughters had only believed that it was their last night on earth.

The Word of God is filled with examples of those who were almost persuaded to make a decision to do right. So many have been on the verge of the Kingdom, but were yet lost. (In the days of Noah, it did not matter how near a man was to the door of the ark. If he was barely on the outside, he was just as lost as the man who was a hundred miles away.) King Agrippa was almost persuaded and so was Felix the Governor. There comes a time in many lives when everything depends upon the decision of the next five minutes. When Paul reasoned with Felix about the judgment to come, Felix trembled as the spirit of God spoke to his heart. For a moment the scales were balanced delicately. Will he yield, or will he reject? Slowly the scales tilt on the wrong side, and Felix said: "Go thy way, come again some more convenient season." But friends, there is no better and more convenient season than today. Now is the accepted time. We can only prove our love by doing the things that Jesus asks us to do. If we continue to linger, we are making the worst mistake of our lives. It is better never to hear the truth, than to understand it and turn from it. "For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them." 2 Peter 2:21.

I have had too many experiences with procrastination, and I know what happens when a person continues to neglect the truth. As a farmer, I know that there is a certain period of the year when we can plant and expect to reap a harvest. I know also, that there is a time when we can plant and no harvest will come. As an evangelist, I know there is a certain time for us to accept the truth and decide for Christ. There is another time when we cannot choose and make that decision. By neglecting and disobeying, we actually lose the power to turn away from transgression. We can persist in sin until our case becomes hopeless and we are immune to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Is it not too important a matter to trifle with the call of God? Is it not too vital to neglect to obey God? Are you arguing with God and the Holy Spirit about keeping His commandments?

Satan has built up an imaginary wall of obstacles for many individuals. He has convinced you that it will be very hard to do the right thing. The fact is that the obstacles will fade away as you step out in faith to obey the Lord. When the children of Israel came to the Red Sea, there was no way to get across. The Lord told them to go forward; it took great faith to step out into the waters without knowing how they could manage to cross over. As soon as they went forward at the command of God, a plain path was opened before their feet and they went over dry-shod. Suppose they had stopped and said; "We will obey this command, but let us take our time; there is no hurry, we will wait and consider the matter." If they had done this, the enemy would have taken them and carried them back to slavery. Yet many today are saying the same thing. They do not intend to disobey God, they just put it off and say there is no hurry. I don't believe that there is such a thing as obeying the command of God too quickly. The only danger is, that we will be slow, so slow, that we might come to the last night on earth without having decided for Christ. Every preacher has seen the tragic cases of those who lost their last chance and were not prepared for death. I have set in a home on a Friday afternoon and talked to a mother and her three children. A few hours later, a great airliner crashed into that home killing the mother and her children. Procrastination is the thief of souls.

A person who hears the truth of God is brought face to face with the supreme question of his life. It is not whether there will be another war; it is not whether our business will fail or whether the Government will fall, but what will you do, when God's last call comes to you? Your chances for accepting it are passing each day. Your first chance is the best and the last chance is the poorest. You have had many chances before and rejected them and today you have the very poorest chance of all. But listen it is the best chance you will ever have again. Oh! I hope you will not turn it down. The only way that we can be sure of a place with Jesus is to follow Him all the way and in all things. I want to ask you now if you will determine to meet me in the kingdom of Heaven. I don't want to have to answer for not urging you to accept this invitation. Right now, this very moment, we can make our calling and election sure. By the grace of God, you can have assurance of Heaven singing in your heart. Don't turn away from the Holy Spirit. Let us make a covenant with God that we shall indeed meet around the throne of God in a little while from now.

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