"What Happens If We Get It Wrong?"
“Raise the stakes.” These three words are among the number of sayings that are constantly uttered by teachers of young artists. As a young actor, I would hear these words if a scene was not coming across in the right way. The problem was not the script, but how we amateurs were not understanding the immediacy and importance of what is happening in this scene. Likewise, when a writer is trying to move a story along, it is often helpful to add conflict and time restraints to create a sense of urgency and suspense. This is what “raising the stakes” is all about.
However, what would happen in a story or a film if the characters did not understand the stakes of their current situation? Imagine a young hero has just rescued the beautiful heiress from the villain, only to discover he is now face-to-face with a bomb. They watch as the numbers count down: 10… 9… 8… and the music slowly intensifies. The hero grabs a knife and looks intently at the three wires connecting the bomb to the detonator. “Which color?” he asks. She replies, “The red one. It’s always the red one!” He takes a deep breath and moves the knife closer to the wires when the heiress asks, “What happens if we get it wrong?” The hero calmly replies, “We’ll just try again.”
What? That wouldn’t make any sense! We’ve all seen this scene play out and we understand the stakes of the situation. If the hero cuts the wrong wire, they are toast. There is no second try, there is no do over. The intensity of the scene comes from the high stakes, the life or death choice that has to be made.
I think this is a good analogy to use as we think about how some people respond to the message of Jesus Christ. It has been my experience that many people don’t necessarily deny God’s existence or the Bible’s authority; they simply do not care enough to be bothered. They may agree with what I say to them, however, the thought of actually living in light these truths has no appeal. Why is this? I think many people simply do not understand the stakes. So, if you would allow me, I would like to raise the stakes for you today.
The Highest Stakes
In the illustration above, what makes the scene so silly is the hero’s indifference towards the bomb. Does he not understand what is going on? The stakes are high, the audience knows it, and the characters should know it. Likewise, every human being must understand that what one believes about God (and how one responds) is a high-stakes situation. In fact, I believe it is the highest stakes situation of all.
Jesus says so himself. In one of his extended discussions with the religious leaders of the day, Jesus explains, “Unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). Do you see that? Jesus is not indifferent to this situation. Rather, Jesus shows that the stakes are life or death, or in this case, eternal life or eternal death. What were the religious leaders failing to believe about Jesus? That he is the eternal God made flesh (John 8:58) and that it is only through true faith in him that one has any hope of salvation. Jesus is not saying he is one of many choices or spiritual paths, but that it is through him or not at all. These are high stakes!
No Do-Over If the hero cuts the right wire, they will live happily ever after. If he cuts the wrong wire, roll credits. There are no do-overs. However, when it comes to spiritual things, people seem to think that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. Really? Would you say that to the hero right before he cuts a wire? No way! You want him to cut the correct wire, the life-saving wire. So why do people assume that it doesn’t matter what one believes about God or what happens when someone dies? I think people don’t realize the stakes.
The writer of the book of Hebrews explains, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). These clear words should cause us all to pause and to consider at least two important facts. First, once a person dies, that is it; there are no second chances. Every person who has ever lived will stand before their Creator and King and give an account for their life (Romans 14:12). Every single person would be found guilty before God were it not for the grace found in Christ. Is your hope and faith in Jesus and the work He accomplished upon the cross? This is not intended to be a scare tactic but a wake up call, because apart from Christ, there is no hope on the day of judgement.
The Countdown Has Already Started
The second fact we must glean from Hebrews 9:27 is that death is appointed for every person. Whether we want to think about it or not, we will all face physical death (if the Lord should tary). The older I get, the more I realize that life goes by quickly. The Bible tells us in multiple places that life is a vapor, a mist that is here today and gone tomorrow. In other words, the countdown has already begun. Are you sure that you’ve made the right choice? Do you understand the stakes? No matter what you may hear from the world, there is no RIP without Christ.
The stakes are high, the clock is ticking, there is no second chance. This is your life. How you live it and what you believe DOES matter. It matters now and it matters into eternity. Please, take time to consider what you believe and why you believe it. This is not a game: if we get it wrong, we will lose more than we could possibly imagine.