By Andrew Conrad (Missionary 126)
Martin had been in and out of Alcoholics’ Anonymous most of his adult life. When he was forty-five, he was diagnosed with a terminal case of liver cirrhosis and had less than a week to live. Martin had heard the gospel most of his life. His best friend was a pastor of an evangelical church and had spent most of his ministry witnessing to Martin. When Martin knew he was dying, he asked his pastor friend to come to his house; and in tears, anguish, and repentance of a wasted life, he surrendered to Jesus Christ and was saved.
Four days later, Martin passed from this life into eternity. Before he died, he called all of the friends he knew and asked them to come and visit with him. Martin shared his faith for the four days he had left. He called his friends who lived out of town and shared with them on the phone about his new faith in Christ.
When Martin died, his pastor friend was out of town. Martin’s sister, Betsy, asked me to preach at his funeral. I went to the funeral home early, sat down with Betsy, and asked her to share Martin’s story with me. She told me she was the only Christian in her family. Many times Martin had turned from drinking and turned to God, only to have a short-lived repentance that ended in drinking again.
“Andrew,” Betsy asked, “did my brother really come to Christ? Was he really saved? Will I see him in heaven?”
I asked her to tell me about Martin’s last days on earth, and she said, “You know, he really seemed different this time. His wife and family said he was a joy to be with. He spent all of his time talking with them or reading the Bible or talking to his friends. He never did that before. And there is something else…”
I asked Betsy to continue with her story. She said, “My brother was either on an alcoholic binge, or he was verbally abusing his wife and children. They all told me he had really changed, and, well,… I just want to know, did he really get saved?” I asked Betsy to look at the Bible with me. We turned to Luke 23:39-43 and read:
One of the criminals hanging there insulted Jesus by saying, “So you’re really the Messiah, are you? Well, save yourself and us!” But the other criminal scolded him. “Don’t you fear God at all? Can’t you see that you’re condemned in the same way that he is? Our punishment is fair. We’re getting what we deserve. But this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.” Jesus said to him, “I can guarantee this truth: Today you will be with me in paradise.”
I asked Betsy to explain to me what Jesus promised the second thief, the one who cried out to him for mercy. She said that he was saved.
I said, “Betsy, Jesus took this man at his word. When the thief cried out for salvation, Jesus didn’t say, ‘Well, first you have to go to church, then be baptized, go to Sunday School, and prove to me you really mean what you say.’ No, Jesus believed what the thief said. Jesus promised him he would go right to the joy of eternal glory with God the instant he died!”
Betsy started to nod her head in agreement. I continued, “The very worst deal the thief who died with Jesus obtained was he would be sleeping on the streets of heaven. He had only three hours to possibly do any good works. Maybe he only had the crown of salvation to cast at Jesus’s feet. Maybe his mansion in heaven was just a tiny, little hut. But Jesus promised he would be there. Betsy, your brother had four days to live for God’s glory, and that’s what he did. He was kind to his family. He shared with his friends. Jesus believed Martin’s word of repentance. Jesus said to him, “In four days you will be with me in Paradise.” Martin had four days to win crowns to cast at Jesus’s feet!
Betsy was filled with tears of joy as the Holy Spirit ministered to her. About an hour later, we had a memorial service for Martin in the funeral home. Many of his brothers, sisters, and cousins came to his funeral. When I preached, I shared with them the story of Martin’s life and how he had invested a large part of his life in the world and its evil. But now, at the end of his life, Martin had four days left, and he devoted them to the Kingdom of God. I asked them if Martin had talked to them in these last four days, and they all raised their hands acknowledging Martin’s communication with them. I told them how Martin had turned from his old life, how he had repented and turned to God in faith that Jesus died and rose again for his forgiveness. We turned to Luke 23, and I shared with them how Martin, like the thief on the cross, had turned from his sin and come to Christ. Now he was enjoying the glories of heaven. Jesus believed Martin had changed, and Jesus was willing to forgive his forty-five years of sin and accept his four days of godly living.
Then I said, “How about you? Are you willing to change like Martin did? He turned from his sin and turned to Christ. Jesus believed him, took him at his word, and promised him eternal life. Do you want to change and give your life to Christ? Do you want Jesus to tell you, ‘You will be in Paradise with me?’”
The entire group was gripped with the conviction of God. Suddenly they started saying. “Yes, yes, I want what Martin had. I want to be saved. I want Jesus to promise me eternal life.”
Tears streamed as we prayed together, and many followed Martin’s example that day – turning from sin, coming to Christ, and receiving the promise of life eternal. Betsy is not going to stand alone in heaven. Her prayers, her life, and her brother’s testimony won a great victory that day and secured eternal life for Martin’s brothers, sisters, and cousins.