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"Whoever" Policy of God
All the passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book, “3:16---The Numbers of Hope,” published in 2007.
Cleopatra's Needle stands out like the foreigner she is in London. Her engravings speak of a different era and employ an ancient language. Workers constructed the obelisk 3,500 years ago as a gift for an Egyptian pharaoh. But on September 12, 1878, the British government planted it in English soil and assigned it vigil over the Thames River.
F. W Boreham was there. He was seven years old the day his father and mother took him on the train to London to witness the moment. He described the "great granite column, smothered with its maze of hieroglyphics." He watched the relic ascend "from the horizontal to the perpendicular, like a giant waking and standing erect after his long, long sleep."
His father explained the significance of the structure: how it once guarded the great temple at Heliopolis. Pharaohs passed it in their chariots. Moses likely studied on its steps. And now, book-ended by stone sphinxes, Cleopatra's Needle stood on a British waterway with a time capsule interred in her base. Someday, city officials reasoned, when Britain goes the way of ancient Egypt, excavators will open the box to find a slice of Victorian England. They'll discover a set of coins, children's toys, a city directory, photographs of the twelve most beautiful women of the day, a razor, and, in 215 languages, a verse from the Bible: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."1
Picture a rummager of some future London digging through rocks and rubble. She finds and reads the verse. Except for one word, she might dismiss it as an old myth. Whoever.
Whoever unfurls 3:16 as a banner for the ages. Whoever unrolls the welcome mat of heaven to humanity. Whoever invites the world to God.
Jesus could have so easily narrowed the scope, changing whoever into whatever. "Whatever Jew believes" or "Whatever woman follows me." But he used no qualifier. The pronoun is wonderfully indefinite. After all, who isn't a whoever?
The word sledgehammers racial fences and dynamites social classes. It bypasses gender borders and surpasses ancient traditions. Whoever makes it clear: God exports his grace worldwide. For those who attempt to restrict it, Jesus has a word: Whoever.
Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. (Matt. 10:32 NIV)
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matt. 10:39)
Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother. (Mark 3:35)
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16)
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him. (John 3:36)
Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. (John 4:14)
Whoever comes to me I will never drive away. (John 6:37)
Whoever lives and believes in me will never die. (John 11:26)
Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (Rev. 22:17)
Titus 2:11 assures us that "the grace of God ... has appeared to all men." Paul contends that Jesus Christ sacrificed himself "to win freedom for all mankind" (1 Tim. 2:6 NEB). Peter affirms that "it is not his [God's] will for any to be lost, but for all to come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9 NEB). God's gospel has a "whoever" policy.
We need to know this. The downturns of life can create such a sad state of affairs that we wonder if God still wants us. Surely Lazarus the beggar wondered. Jesus tells us this about him:
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. (Luke 16:19-21)
The two men indwell opposite sides of the city tracks. The rich man lives in posh luxury and wears the finest clothing. The language suggests he uses fabric worth its weight in gold.2 He eats exotic food, enjoys a spacious house with botanical gardens. He's the New Testament version of a Monaco billionaire.
Lazarus is a homeless street sleeper. Dogs lick the sores that cavern his skin. He languishes outside the mansion, hoping for scraps. Infected. Rejected. No possessions. No family. An exception to God's "whoever" policy, right?
In sudden drama, the curtain of death falls on act 1, and eternal destiny is revealed in act 2.
The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. (vv. 22-23)
Just-poor Lazarus now needs nothing. The now-poor rich man needs everything. He loses the lap of luxury, and Lazarus discovers the lap of Abraham.
Lazaruses still populate our planet. You may be one. Not begging for bread, but struggling to buy some. Not sleeping on streets, but on the floor perhaps? In your car sometimes? On a couch often? Does God have a place for people in your place?
Of all the messages this account conveys, don't miss this one: God takes you however he finds you. No need to clean up or climb up. Just look up. God's "whoever" policy has a "however" benefit.
It also features a "whenever" clause. Whenever you hear God's voice, he welcomes your response. While cleaning my car, I found a restaurant gift certificate. Amid the papers, gum wrappers, and trash was a treasure: fifty dollars' worth of food. I'd received it for my birthday over a year ago and had misplaced it. My enthusiasm was short-lived when I saw the expiration date. The invitation had expired. I had waited too long.
But you haven't. And to convince you, Jesus wove a parable of eleventh-hour grace. He described a landowner who needed helpers. Just as a farmer hires migrant workers or a landscaper fills a crew with temps, this man employed workers. "They agreed on a wage of a dollar a day, and went to work" (Matt. 20:2 MSG). A few were hired early in the morning. Others at 9:00 a.m. The landowner recruited a few more at noon. Came back at 3:00 p.m. for more. And at 5:00 p.m., one hour before quitting time, he picked up one more truckload.
Those last men were surely surprised. One hour remaining in the workday ... they had expected to go home with empty pockets. They were already bracing to hear the question "Did you work today?" No landlord issues a final-hour invitation, does he?
No one pays a day's wage to one-hour workers, does he?
Read Jesus's punch line: "They got the same, each of them one dollar" (v. 10 MSG). Deathbed converts and lifelong saints enter heaven by the same gate.
Some years ago I took a copy of God's "whoever" policy to California. I wanted to show it to my Uncle Billy. He'd been scheduled to visit my home, but bone cancer had thwarted his plans.
My uncle reminded me much of my father: squared like a blast furnace, ruddy as a leather basketball. They shared the same West Texas roots, penchant for cigars, and blue-collar work ethic. But I wasn't sure if they shared the same faith. So after several planes, two shuttles, and a rental-car road trip, I reached Uncle Billy's house only to learn he was back in the hospital. No visitors. Maybe tomorrow.
He felt better the next day. Good enough to come home. I
went to see him. Cancer had taken its toll and his strength. The recliner entombed his body. He recognized me yet dozed as I chatted with his wife and friends. He scarcely opened his eyes. People came and went, and I began to wonder if I would have the chance to ask the question.
Finally the guests stepped out onto the lawn and left me alone with my uncle. I slid my chair next to his, took his skin-taut hand, and wasted no words. "Bill, are you ready to go to heaven?"
His eyes, for the first time, popped open. Saucer wide. His head lifted. Doubt laced his response: "I think I am."
"Do you want to be sure?"
Our brief talk ended with a prayer for grace. We both said "amen," and I soon left. Uncle Billy died within days. Did he wake up in heaven? According to the parable of the eleventh-hour workers, he did.
Some struggle with such a thought. A last-minute confessor receives the same grace as a lifetime servant? Doesn't seem fair. The workers in the parable complained too. So the landowner, and God, explained the prerogative of ownership: "Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?" (v. 15 RSV).
Request grace with your dying breath, and God hears your prayer. Whoever means "whenever."
And one more: whoever means "wherever." Wherever you are, you're not too far to come home.
The prodigal son assumed he was. He had spurned his father's kindness and "journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living" (Luke 15:13 NKJV).
The word translated here as wasted is the same Greek verb used to describe the action of a seed-sowing farmer. Envision him throwing handfuls of seeds onto tilled earth. Envision the prodigal tossing his father's money to greedy merchants: a roll of bills at one club, a handful of coins at another. He rides the magic carpet of cash from one party to the next.
And then one day his wallet grows thin. The credit card comes back. The maitre d' says "no," the hotel says "go," and the boy says "uh-oh." He slides from high hog at the trough to low pig in the mud. He finds employment feeding swine. Not a recommended career path for a Jewish boy.
The hunger so gnaws at his gut he considers eating with the pigs. But rather than swallow the pods, he swallows his pride and begins that famous walk homeward, rehearsing a repentance speech with each step. Turns out he didn't need it. "His father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him" (v. 20 NKJV). The father was saving the son's place.
He's saving yours too. If heaven's banquet table has nameplates, one bears your name.
We lose much in life-sobriety, solvency, and sanity. We lose jobs and chances, and we lose at love. We lose youth and its vigor, idealism and its dreams. We lose much, but we never lose our place on God's "whoever" list.
Whoever---God's wonderful word of welcome.
I love to hear my wife say "whoever." Sometimes I detect my favorite fragrance wafting from the kitchen: strawberry cake. I follow the smell like a bird dog follows a trail until I'm standing over the just-baked, just-iced pan of pure pleasure. Yet I've learned to still my fork until Denalyn gives clearance.
"Who is it for?" I ask.
She might break my heart. "It's for a birthday party, Max. Don't touch it!"
Or, "For a friend. Stay away."
Or she might throw open the door of delight. "Whoever."
And since I qualify as a "Whoever," I say "yes."
I so hope you will too. Not to the cake, but to God.
No status too low.
No hour too late.
No place too far.
However. Whenever. Wherever.
Whoever includes you ... forever. [65-72]
1. Francis William Boreham, A Handful Of Stars, quoted in Barnes, Comp., Sermons on John 3:16 (Greenville, SC: Ambassador Productions, 1999), 19-20. The wording of the verse probably followed the most popular English translation of the day, the King James Version: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
2. Larry Dixon, The Other Side of the Good News (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1992), 133.
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