"And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise." - Luke 23:39-40
Busy? No, the word "busy" would not have even begun to do justice to the week ahead of me as I looked at the calendar. Nonetheless, when the call came in, everything else was immediately knocked down a notch or two, and this one thing assumed its rightful place of priority at the top of the list.
"It's my brother," said the familiar voice on the other end of the line. "He's lost, and now he is in the hospital, and it looks like he may never make it out."
The brother he was speaking of was 76 years old.
I made my way to the hospital, climbed four flights of stairs (elevators will carry you, but steps will improve you) and made my way to the gentleman's room. I knocked, and when the voice from inside bade me enter, I took a few steps into the room and introduced myself. Neither the gentleman nor his wife knew me, but they quickly asked me to sit down, and I began to speak to them.
General pleasantries that always seems like a good place to start. After that, I asked him of his condition, and it was as dire as I had been led to believe. Acknowledging that, I then shifted the conversation to the essential pressing matter at hand.
I asked the dear gentleman where he would go if he did not get better and died there in the hospital. Without a moment's hesitation he said two words: "Straight down."
I knew what he meant; he knew what he meant; his wife sitting beside him knew what he meant.
I smiled pleasantly and asked him if I could show him a better way, and he quickly said yes.
I began to quote and explain verses to him: Romans 5:12, Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:10, Romans 3:23, Romans 5:8, Romans 6:23, Luke 13:3-5, Romans 10:9-10 and Romans 10:13. Once I was quite certain that he understood what each and every one of those verses meant and how they applied to him, I asked him if he would like to be saved. He said, "Yes, I sure would."
I took the dear gentleman by the hand, and we prayed together. He told the Lord that he was sorry for his sin, that he knew that Jesus was the Son of God and had risen from the dead, and he asked the Lord to take control of his life with no reservations and to save him. On the very cusp of death, an old man was born again.
And as I write this, I was interrupted by the call that he has just a few days to live at best; there is nothing else the doctors can do.
But why should it surprise us that God is still dealing with people that late in life and that near to their death? The thief on the cross in the text with which I started this column lived a miserable wretched life and yet found himself hanging beside the Son of God who was at that very moment dying to pay for all of that thief's sins, and all of mine, and all of yours. A wretched sinner who never got to attend a church service or get baptized or tithe or sing in the choir found himself in short order in paradise and then in heaven itself.
That should tell you just how intent God is on saving souls. If any of us were God, especially us "long-term religious" folks, I suspect we would not be too keen on the idea of people living in wretched sin for 99.999 percent of their lives and then being allowed to get saved in the last .001 percent of their lives.
Isn't it nice to know that none of us are God? I recommend that everyone get saved very early in life since none of us know the day of our death, and it may come soon and with little or no warning. But I also rejoice in a God who is still willing to grant eternal life even upon a deathbed conversion.
Bo Wagner is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, North Carolina, a widely traveled evangelist and the author of several books available on Amazon and at www.wordofhismouth.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.