A few days before Father’s Day I got a call from my stepmom: My 88-year-old dad was rushed to the hospital with congestive heart failure and pneumonia. In God’s providence, I had booked my flight to see him several months before and would be there to see him before he passed on; the prognosis didn’t sound good. I also hoped to celebrate his 89th birthday with him—if he lasted that long. But my main goal was to give him one last chance to respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ so he wouldn’t go to Hell. (Read Part 1 here.)
When I wrote about visiting him last, I told how hard-hearted he had been about responding to the good news that Jesus saves sinners. For over 30 years I had spoken to him about his soul to no avail. Though he wasn’t antagonistic to the message, he wasn’t moved either. The last few years I had decided to live out the example of a good Christian pastor son. But now, the time was critical.
I do not believe for a minute that I can make anyone truly believe with faith Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. But I’m called, as all Christians are, to “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to all creation” (Mark 16:15). This is it in its simplest form: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…(1 Corinthians 15). All my dad had to do was “declare with [his] mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in [his] heart that God raised him from the dead, [and then he would] be saved” (Romans 10:9).
But it ain’t easy to believe. Dad is a prideful man. So am I. Everybody has big pride. That sense of self-reliance—thinking we can make it to Heaven by our own good efforts— is God-damned pride. Those are not swear words, but truth. God will damn anyone to Hell who thinks they can make it to Heaven by their own good works. No, the Bible says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;” (Isaiah 64:6). How filthy? The word “rags” in Hebrew means used menstrual cloths. That’s how far our doing good stuff gets us into God’s favor.
The first thing I did when I arrived in Phoenix was to visit dad by his hospital bedside. He was weak, voice frail. After saying hello, I got right to the point. Taking full advantage of the fact that this might be his death bed, I asked where he thought he would go when he died. After clarifying that he was not headed to Heaven, I helped him see his need for a Savior due to the many sins he had committed in his lifetime. “Dad, do you believe that Jesus paid the price for your sin on the cross, and will you repent? Do you truly believe that He died, was buried and rose again?”
To my great surprise, he answered “Yes”!
Admittedly, after thirty-one years of this message falling on his deaf ears, I couldn’t believe my own. In fact, I didn’t believe him at all. O me of little faith!
Did he mean it? Really? If so, my dad finally died…to himself! He was willing to pick up his cross and follow Jesus. He was willing to lose his life to gain it. He was no longer dead in his sins and trespasses, but now, was alive to Christ!
It wasn’t until dad fell again the next night, gashing his head wide open, and the nurses whisking me in to see him, that I had one last chance to confirm whether what he admitted to me was truly sincere. Was he? (Read part 3: Did My Dad Really Believe?)