In childhood when we wanted to prove that we would keep a promise, we'd cross our hearts and say, “Cross my heart and hope to die if I tell a lie” (with variations!) That sealed it. We really meant it!
I know just where I was at the time I made an early promise to God. Our Christian Endeavor youth group met on Sunday nights in the parlor of the historic downtown First Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. One of my favorite hymns was the classic:
“O Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end; Be Thou forever near me, my Master and my Friend; I shall not fear the battle, if Thou art by my side, nor wander from the pathway, if Thou wilt be my guide.”
“Yes, Lord, that's what I promise,” I earnestly, fervently prayed with my fourteen year old understanding and the flush of my early commitment to surrender totally to the will of God for my life and my future. “Cross my heart and hope to die if I tell a lie. I will serve Thee to the end!”
In my honest innocence I intended to be a promise keeper. I could not have known where throughout the world life my life commitment would take me in my nearly ninety years. What battles I would be called upon to fight, where God's rough pathways might lead, what consequences there would be from wanderings from the pathways of God's guidance, what service “to the end” would involve.
Have I reached the end? The end of what? Scripture speaks of many aspects of "the end."
In Hebrews, “Whose [Christ's] house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end,” and “show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end,” and “the end of the ages.” “For we are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end” And when speaking of Joseph, “when his end was nigh.”
Saint Peter echoes, “the end of all things is at hand,” and “receiving the end of your faith, [even] the salvation of [your] souls,” and “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore of sound mind, and be sober unto prayer.”
Saint John adds, “He [Jesus] loved his own that were in the world, he loved them unto the end.”
Saint Paul declares, “He shall also confirm you unto the end [the day of our Lord Jesus Christ],” “Then [comes] the end, when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power.”
The book of Revelation thunders “And he that overcomes, and he that keeps my works unto the end, to him will I give authority over the nations.” Saint John quotes Jesus, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
What then are the different ends?
The end of my mortal life on earth, as Saint Peter expressed, “knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent.” All flesh is subject to that end, our bodily death.
The end of my calling from God. My task is done, “I have finished my course” as Saint Paul realized of himself.
The end as of the gospel of the Kingdom being preached unto all nations, “then shall the end come.”
The end of all things, life as we know it, the world as we know it, the end of the age as explained by Saint Peter in the fourth chapter of his first epistle and the third chapter of his second epistle. The present heavens and earth will be destroyed in God's judgment. Peter calls God a promise keeper; three times in the third chapter God's promise is spoken of. The “heavens will pass away and earth and all its works will be burned up, and all things destroyed.” Utter devastation.
The end of our waiting—the glorious Second Coming of Christ, “the summing up of all things in Christ.”
All of these “ends” are certain to happen but in what sequence we are each to experience them is only known to God. These are “the ends” to which in my tender youth I made a promise to serve Him and a promise renewed in the summit season of my life as a Catholic Christian. God is faithful and will not revoke His promise and, with His enabling, He doesn't expect me to rescind mine. The Scripture encourages me to stay faithful and endure to the end in my life pilgrimage. I'm not on a greased slide into heaven.
I don't like to think of the end of anything; I'd rather focus on bright, fresh beginnings. The Lord doesn't leave me dangling in despair or fear to face any of the ends ahead of me. He lifts my eyes beyond the ends and turns His spotlight on the new heavens and new earth, on Jesus' promise to “make all things new,” on my eventual new, resurrected, immortal body, and on eternal life with Him. “He who endures to the end will receive the crown of life.”
The bottom line? “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised” (Hebrews 10:36). What did God, our Promise Keeper promise? An unfading crown of glory described by Saint Peter. That we will obtain “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time [at the end].”
Our Promise Keeper, rather than “crossing His heart and hoping to die” to prove His faithfulness, “opened His heart on the cross and died” to be with us and never forsake us through all “the ends” of life.