Tomorrow Or Today?
I read for you two passages of scripture. The first from the Gospel according to Mark. The tenth chapter, beginning to read at the forty-sixth verse. This is the story of Bartimaeus. “And they came to Jericho, and as Jesus was leaving Jericho with His disciples, and a great multitude, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.’ And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more. ‘Son of David, have mercy on me.’ And Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ And they called the blind man to Him, saying to him, ‘Take heart, rise, He is calling you.’ And throwing off his mantle, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ The blind man said to Him, ‘Master, let me receive my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way, your faith has made you well.’ And immediately, he received his sight, and followed Him on the way.”
And then a single verse, from the Book of Proverbs, the twenty-seventh chapter of Proverbs, the first verse. “Do not count upon tomorrow, for you do not know what tomorrow will bring.”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh God, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
It was in August of 1967 that I was ordained to the gospel ministry. And between that August and this August, I have, on a number of occasions, stood at the bedsides of those who are dying. And I have always been amazed at the depth of feeling which I encounter in these people whose lives are almost over. Some of them have actually looked forward, even with some anticipation, to the prospect of standing in the kingdom of Heaven, in the presence of their Christ. Others of them have spent their last hours or days tormented with remorse for things done or things left undone. But I have come through all of those experiences, whatever their nature may have been, I have come through all of those experiences with a deep, burning conviction at the center of my life. It is this: that our response in life to Jesus Christ is a matter of great urgency. It cannot be postponed. And it is my prayer that this theme, which has been a continuing theme in my ministry, that this theme, which I return to once more today, that his theme, somehow, by God’s Spirit, will touch your heart with something of that sense of urgency.
The psalmist, the prophet, the proverb writer, and even the Prince of Peace Himself speak to us of the value of living today and the danger of living only for tomorrow. The very experiences which we know in life affirm this. Its joys and its sorrows. Its vanished faces and its silent voices. Its closed doors and its missed opportunities. All of these things speak to us of what is a great, Biblical truth. This is it: that it is only today that really matters in life. So here is the text for my sermon. A text which I wish to engrave upon your hearts. Proverbs 27:1: “Do not count upon tomorrow, for you do not know what tomorrow will bring.”
Now to underscore the truth of that text, the first thing that I want us to do together is to take a look at two men in scripture who made the mistake of counting on tomorrow.
The first is King Saul, Israel’s first king. A man of tremendous promise and potential. Are you aware of the fact that of all of the people whose lives were portrayed on the pages of scripture, it was Saul, above all of the others, it was Saul who most frequently said, “Lord, I have sinned.” Again and again in the course of his living, it seemed that he was about to change. He was constantly acknowledging his sin, and it seemed that he was just about to turn things around, just about to become everything that God had called him, and everything that God had intended him to be. And he had every time, all the way through his life, every time he would say, “Lord, I have sinned.” And then he added, “And I will do better tomorrow. I will put things right tomorrow. I will wipe the sin out of my life tomorrow.” Always tomorrow. And then there came a point in his life where he had to face his last tomorrow.
It was late afternoon. He was standing on the slopes of Mount Gilboa looking down into the valley below, and there he saw the Philistine army being assembled. The reason the Philistine army was being assembled was for the purpose of doing battle against Saul and his forces. And as he looked at that vast army being gathered in the valley below him, he was suddenly filled with deep misgivings about the battle he knew would take place on the very next day. And so in his desperation, he turned to superstition, witchcraft. He sought out a witch, and he asked that witch to call up for him the spirit of Samuel, to call up the spirit of Samuel from the land of the dead. Samuel. The same Samuel who had anointed him king. Samuel, the same Samuel who head helped him so many times in the past, and who might help him now. The same Samuel who had encouraged him, prayed for him, and mourned him, and wept for him. That same Samuel.
He asked the witch to call up the spirit of Samuel. And do you know what the spirit of Samuel said to him on that occasion? He said, “Saul, why are you bothering me now? It is too late for you to change. Tomorrow, you and your sons will die.” You see, Saul had sinned away his last day of grace. He could say no longer, “Lord, I’ve sinned, and I’ll do better tomorrow.” Because all of his tomorrows had been used up. He was counting on tomorrow. But for him, tomorrow would be too late. I suppose that Saul is considered to be potentially one of the brightest lights in all of the Bible, and yet he turned out to be perhaps the darkest tragedy there. They might well have written on his tombstone this epitaph. “Lord, I’ll do better tomorrow.”
Do not count upon tomorrow, for you do not know what tomorrow will bring.
Or I think of the man in Jesus’ parable. I know that the parables were stories, but we know enough about the parables to know that Jesus’ parables were based on actual people or events or circumstances in His own personal experience. And so I think we can safely say that there must have been a man just like the man in this particular parable. There must have been a man like that who actually existed in Jesus’ circle of acquaintances. You know the man I’m referring to. The man who looked out at all of the crops which were his, and he said his old barns just wouldn’t contain all of those crops. And so he said, “I’ll tear down my old barns, and I’m going to build new barns, and bigger barns, and better barns. And then I’m going to pour all of my crops into those barns. And then I’m going to say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods stored up for many years. Take your ease. Eat, drink, and be merry.'”
And there was only one thing wrong with that man’s thinking. Only one weak plank in the platform he was building for his life. It was the fact that he was counting on tomorrow. You see, my guess is that he had looked back into his family history, and he had discovered that most of the adults in his family tree lived long lives. Long and useful lives. And so he took that information and he said to himself, “Well, I’ve got a good twenty years or so left on the basis of my heritage. I know that’s going to be the case. And so I’m going to see to it that every last one of those years is spent in ease and comfort.” He was counting on tomorrow. God had a different idea.
God said, “Fool.” I think that’s the only time that Jesus ever addressed that word to anyone. “Fool,” He said, “This night, your soul is required of you.” He was counting on tomorrow. But for him, tomorrow never came. Oh, there was a new day. Yes, sometime later, after the night, there came the dawn, and the sun came up and the sun was shining brightly out over all of those fields laden with crops, and out over those barns bursting at their seams. Yes, the sun rose. There was a new day. But he never saw it. He was counting on tomorrow. For him, tomorrow never came. The proverb writer is right. Do not count upon tomorrow, for you do not know what tomorrow will bring.
But then to further underscore this truth, I want secondly to look at a man in scripture who didn’t make the mistake of living for tomorrow.
It’s a story I love, the story I just read for you, from the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, the story of Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho. Every day, he would take his accustomed place, together with all of the other beggars of Jericho, he would take his accustomed place just outside the city gates there. And there they would wait, hoping on hope, that someone passing by in and out of the city gates during the course of the day might take enough time to stop and put a penny or two into their cups. On this particular day, Bartimaeus, probably wondering what the day would bring, suddenly realized that he heard – remember he was blind, and those who are blind have acute senses of hearing. He heard, off in the distance, the scuffling of many feet, the murmur of many voices. He knew that a crowd was gathering somewhere for some purpose. He called out to a passerby, he said, “What’s the fuss? What’s happening? Who’s coming? Why the crowd?” And I suspect that the passerby never even stopped. They didn’t like to keep company with beggars. But he did call out over his shoulder, “Jesus is coming, Jesus of Nazareth.”
Well, Bartimaeus had heard of Jesus. Had heard of the miracles that he wrought. Had heard how, on occasion he had even given sight to the blind. And he thought to himself, “Dear God, this may be my chance.” So he waited patiently until his practiced ear told him that the crowd was immediately before him. And at that point, he proceeded to create a terrible ruckus. He began to shout at the very top of his voice, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” And the other beggars began to beat him with their sticks to silence him, and the people in the crowd began to shout him down, trying to disapprove of his conduct. They tried to silence him, everything. He was creating a terrible ruckus, and Jesus was the center of attention, and he was trying to draw the attention away from Jesus to himself, and they were trying to shut him up, and he wouldn’t be shut up. And he cried out, “Jesus, have mercy on me.”
And Jesus heard him, and He stopped, and He said, “Call him.” And they called him. He came. Did you hear what it said in the Bible? It’s so magnificent. He sprang. He’d been crouching there, humiliated by his circumstances, but now he sprang to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And he said, “Lord, let me receive my sight.” Jesus said, “Go your way. Your faith has made you well.” Oh, that’s such a story, but I want you to see something so important here. It’s not specifically stated in the Scriptures, you have to read on from there to understand it. But it’s crucially important that you do understand it. I want you to know that if Bartimaeus, that day, had said, the crowds are too great. The people are after me, they’re trying to push me down. I’ll just have to wait. I know that Jesus travels about the countryside, and I’m sure he’ll be back through here. And so I’ll wait for another opportunity, a better opportunity, some other day. Then I will approach Him. If Bartimaeus had said and done that that day, he would never have received his sight. Why? Because Jesus never came to Jericho again.
The road Jesus was walking that day was a road that led directly to Jerusalem. Directly to the cross on Calvary. Jesus never came to Jericho again. This was Bartimaeus’ first and only opportunity. If he had waited until tomorrow, if he had waited just fifteen or twenty minutes, even, he would have been too late. Do not count upon tomorrow, for you do not know what tomorrow will bring.
But then to drive this text home to our hearts, I want to share with you two reasons why today is safe and tomorrow is dangerous.
One reason is the uncertainty of life. The Bible speaks of that again and again. The Bible says that life is narrow as a hand’s breadth, swifter than an weaver’s shuttle. Life is like a leaf driven to and fro by the wind. It’s like water spilled on the ground which then soaks in. It’s like a flower which is cut, and then proceeds to wither and fade and die. It’s like a fog which you see in the morning, but which later in the day vanishes away. It’s like a tale that is told. The Bible is trying to make the point to us that there is an uncertainty to life. I think there is no one who has ever said it better or more clearly than King David. King David who said, “We are but one step away from death.” That’s true, no matter who we are, no matter what our age may be, we are just one step away from the end.
I remember reading the words of the great Russian writer, Dostoevsky, as he was trying to share his feelings and his emotions in a moment when he thought he was going to die. He had been arrested. It was for political activities and he was sentenced to death. As a matter of fact, he had even been fastened to a stake of execution, and a firing squad had been arrayed before him. The rifles were loaded, they were aimed, they were cocked, they were ready to fire. And Dostoyevsky knew in that moment that at the word of command, he would die. And yet, it was just then that a messenger from the Czar burst in, carrying a writ of pardon for Dostoevsky. Later on, reflecting back to that moment when he felt he was going to die, he tried to write down what his emotions were. And he says, “In that moment, I remember thinking that, if by some miracle, I could escape death now, that never again would I take a single moment in life lightly. But rather, every single moment in life would become, to me, like a century in its value.” And Dostoevsky went on to write, “Ever since that brush with death, that is the way I have lived. Every single moment in life is a century in its value to me.”
How does the poet put it? “The clock of life is wound but once, and no one has the power to tell just when the hands will stop, at late or early hour.” There is a great uncertainty to life. So do not count upon tomorrow, for you do not know what tomorrow will bring.
But the second reason is that people’s feelings change. Mark this down. The soul, like the Earth, has its seasons. If today, you are deeply impressed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and if you wish to claim this Christ as your very own, if that’s the way you feel today, then I want to say to you, that if you decide that you will wait until tomorrow to act upon that impression, then you may well find that tomorrow, the feeling has gone.
That’s what happened to Felix. You know Felix? His story is spread on the pages of the book of Acts. He was the Roman procurator. He called Paul to preach to him. And Paul preached to him, oh, did he preach. He preached with power and he preached about the risen Christ. And it was such a powerful sermon, such a powerful experience, that the Bible says that Felix was deeply moved. In fact, the Bible says “his heart trembled within him.”
But after Paul’s sermon, do you know what Felix said? He said, “Paul, I want you to go away for a while. And I will summon you, and we’ll talk about this matter further.” Later on, Felix summoned Paul any number of times. And Paul preached to Felix, preached just as powerfully. Never again. Never again did Felix’s heart tremble within him. I mean, think of it. Here was a man who stood at the very gate of the kingdom of God, and the gate was wide open for him, and all he had to do was to step in. And he said, “Paul, go away. I’ll call you tomorrow and we’ll talk then.” Do not count upon tomorrow, for you do not know what tomorrow will bring.
Well, I suppose that I can try to say it all like this. It was October the 8th, 1871. It was in Chicago. It was Sunday evening. The great evangelist Dwight L. Moody was preaching that evening in Chicago to an overflowing congregation. And he chose as his text the words from Scripture, “What will you do with this Jesus?” And he preached on that text. And when he came to the end of his sermon, he said to that congregation, “I want you to take this text home with you tonight. And I want you to think about this text all during the course of this next week. And then I want you to come back here to the same place at the same time next Sunday evening, and then we will decide what we will do with this Jesus.” That’s the way he ended his sermon. And then he called the people to stand for prayer and the benediction.
After they stood, in the moment of silence just before he began to pray. Suddenly that silence was split by the sound of sirens. A fire had broken out. That fire, fueled by the wind, would burn out of control for 24 straight hours. We know it in history as the great Chicago fire. 24 hours later, the city of Chicago lay in ashes. And most of the people in that congregation that Sunday evening perished in the fire. And Dwight L Moody was haunted by that event for the rest of his days. So much so that right near the end of his own life, he said once, through a haze of tears, “I have never been able to forget that night. And I have never again dared to give people a week to think about their salvation. For that terrible night, I learned a lesson that I’ve never forgotten. And every time I have ever preached since, I press Christ upon the people now.”
My friends, I can do no less than that. So if there is any word of encouragement or appreciation which you would speak to someone else, if there is any act of kindness which you would perform for another human being, if there is some change in your life which you need to make and you know you need to make it, if there is some evil habit in your experience that you need to break, and you know you’ll never become all that God wants you to be until you break it, if there is in you the great burning desire to know and to love and to serve Jesus Christ, if there is in you the desire to become everything, absolutely everything that God intends you to be in Christ, if those things are true of you, then today, not tomorrow, today is the time. The Gospel of Jesus Christ never says tomorrow.
I want to challenge you to do something. You scan the Bible and you find there one place where the Holy Spirit of God says it’s all right to wait until tomorrow, you find one place in all of the Bible where it says that, and you bring it to me, and show it to me, and I promise you I will renounce my ministry immediately, and I will never stand in any pulpit anywhere ever again to preach that gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ never says tomorrow. It says, “Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near.” My beloved people, that does not mean tomorrow. It means today.