All About the Judgment

All About the Judgment

1 Corinthians 3:10-15

Dr. Jim Denison

A dear elderly saint was near death, and gave her pastor a strange request: “When my casket is opened at the funeral, and all my friends come by for a last look, I want them to see me ready to be buried with a table fork in my right hand.” She explained to her puzzled pastor, “I want you to tell the congregation, you know what it means when they clear the dishes from a big meal and someone says, ‘keep your fork.’ You know that something good is coming—maybe a piece of apple pie or chocolate cake. ‘Keep your fork’ means something good is coming. Pastor, I want to be buried with a dessert fork in my hand. It will be my way of saying, ‘the best is yet to come.'”

And so it was. Everyone who saw her body in the casket saw her final witness. For her, death and judgment were not a disaster, but dessert.

How can that be true for you and me, when we stand before God in judgment one day?

Will your building last?

Here are the facts of our text, centered in the metaphor of life as a house we build. First, the house is the gift of God (10). Paul’s abilities and opportunities to be an “expert builder” were given to him by God. His relationship with Jesus Christ is God’s grace gift to him. All we have and are comes by his grace.

The doctrine of judgment does not teach a works righteousness. We cannot earn God’s love or favor. Judgment means that we are to be faithful stewards of the grace gifts and opportunities of God, and are accountable for them. But no one deserves the rewards given at the judgment—they come by his grace.

Second, the house must be founded on Jesus (11). He is the unchanging, stable rock upon which to build your life. Not just your religion, or your Sunday mornings, but every priority, commitment, and ambition. Your life must be bolted to him.

Third, we are responsible for what we build (12). The foundation is determined. What we build on it is not.

Some of us use “gold, silver or costly stones” (marble and granite). We give God our best. We invest in that which is permanent and eternal. We put souls before success, family before finances, God before gold. When the “fire” of judgment comes, gold, silver, and marble stand the test. You’ve seen ancient marble ruins, standing for thousands of years, ready to stand for thousands more. So with some of us.

Some of us use “wood, hay or straw.” We give God what is cheap, convenient, easy. He gets the leftovers. And when we are judged, our disobedience will be obvious to all.

Fourth, God will judge our lives (13-15).

One day the judgment will come—the “Day” (13). Lives lived for God will be rewarded, as we’ll see in a moment (14). Lives lived for ourselves, for this fallen world, for that which is temporary and inferior, will “suffer loss” (15a). God cannot reward disobedience.

If we have made Jesus our Savior, we will be saved. Our eternal salvation is not in question. But our eternal rewards are, and if our house has been built out of wood, hay or straw, we will “be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (15b). How do people run out of a burning house? With nothing.

You’ve perhaps heard about the crooked building contractor who built a house for a wealthy friend, cutting corners wherever he could. Inferior products and workmanship throughout. When the house was finished, the wealthy friend gave the man the keys and said, “It’s yours.”

There’s a story about a business tycoon who made a fortune in money and fame, but gave little of himself or his wealth to God. When he died, Peter showed him his home in heaven—a small shack. He protested loudly, and Peter shrugged his shoulders and explained, “I did the best I could with what you sent me.”

You and I are responsible for what we do with the lives God has given us by his grace. They are to be founded on Jesus as Lord, built of our best commitment to him. One day the Building Inspector will visit our house. And his judgment will be eternal.

These are the facts of God’s word. Now let’s ask some questions.

Will you be judged?

First, will you be judged? Would a loving Father of grace and mercy judge his children?

Hebrews 9:27 is clear: “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” All of us—no exceptions. Paul said, “Each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).

A man in the congregation laughed when the pastor said, “Members of this church, you will all die one day and face the judgment of God.” The pastor asked him why he laughed, and he said, “I’m not a member of this church.” But he is. So are we all.

By whom will we be judged? By Jesus: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

The “judgment seat” was a raised platform where the ruler sat and judged those brought before him. At this “bema seat” Pilate once judged Jesus; now Jesus judges Pilate.

Jesus was very clear on this: “The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).

Peter said, “[Jesus] is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). Paul agreed: “God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ” (Romans 2:16).

When? At his return. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him,” and he will judge them (Matthew 25:31-32.

Jesus will judge us all, at his return. We cannot escape. But if we’re prepared, this will not be terror but triumph; not a curse but a crown. Let’s see how to be ready today.

How will we be judged?

How will this judgment happen? God’s word describes two books of judgment: “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done….If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-13, 15).

First, there is the book of works. Here God has recorded your deeds and mine. Now he will judge them. What will he find?

“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God….The wages [judgment] for sin is death” (Romans 3:23, 6:32). No one can get to heaven on the basis of the book of works. None of us is good enough.

And so there is a second book, the book of life, and it’s the key. What is it?

I believe that when your life begins, you are recorded in this “book of life.” Moses said to God: “Please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” The Lord replied, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book” (Exodus 32:32-33).

God has your name in his book, and must “blot it out” if you choose to reject his free salvation in Christ. When you die without Christ, God is forced to remove your name from his book of life, and you’ll be “thrown into the lake of fire.”

Scripture is very clear: “Nothing impure will ever enter [heaven], nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27).

But if you have accepted Christ as Savior and Lord, your name will be there forever. Jesus said to his disciples, “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke10:20). Paul addressed the Philippian Christians as “my fellow laborers, whose names are in the book of life” (Philippians 4:3).

But heaven is not the only question at the judgment. Heavenly rewards or loss of rewards is at issue as well: “If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss” (1 Corinthians 3:14-15). For what will we suffer “loss” of reward?

Secret, unconfessed sins will be judged: “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14). Jesus confirms it: “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (Luke 12:2-3).

Our words will be judged: “I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36-37).

After listing all sorts of sin, Peter declared that those who do such things “will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5).

Ungodly, unconfessed sins, thoughts, or words will be revealed at the judgment and burned away. Because heaven is perfect, these things cannot enter in; they must be burned off, destroyed. Sin is forgiven, but reward is lost.

On the other hand, “gold, silver, costly stones” are rewarded. What kind of rewards?

There is the “crown of life”: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). Jesus said, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

There is the “soul-winner’s crown”: “What is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).

There is the “crown of righteousness”: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

For Christian leaders, there is the “crown of glory”: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:2-4).

Gold, silver, costly stones will be rewarded with everlasting crowns. For what? Enduring temptation, winning souls, staying faithful to God’s purpose, serving God’s people in love. This is the building which lasts forever.


Let’s summarize:

You and I will stand one day before Jesus Christ in judgment. If you have rejected him as Savior and Lord, your name will not be in his book of life, and you’ve chosen hell over heaven, forever. If you’ve accepted him, heaven is already yours. Your name is in his book, forever.

But the book of works will determine your rewards or loss of rewards. Ungodly words, secret sins, immorality will be burned away and suffer loss. Holiness, soul-winning, faithfulness, and loving service will be rewarded with eternal crowns.

You need to be ready, today.

C. S. Lewis once said that there are two kinds of people. Some say to God, “Your will be done.” For them the judgment will be reward and victory. To the others God must finally say, “Your will be done.” They have rejected heaven, or rewards in heaven.

Is it his will or yours? You have only today to decide.

Is Jesus the Only Way to God?

Is Jesus the Only Way to God?

John 14:1-6

Dr. Jim Denison

A friend recently sent me this story by e-mail. It seems an elderly lady finished her shopping and walked out to her car, to find four males in it. She dropped her shopping bags and drew her handgun, proceeding to scream at them at the top of her voice that she knew how to use it and would if required—so get out of the car. The four men didn’t wait around for a second invitation, but got out and ran like crazy.

The lady proceeded to load her shopping bags into the back of the car and got into the driver’s seat. However, her key wouldn’t fit the ignition. She got out and found her car, identical to this one, parked four spaces down. She loaded her bags into her car and drove to the police station.

The sergeant to whom she told her story nearly doubled over with laughter as he pointed to the other end of the counter, where four pale white males were reporting a car-jacking by a mad, elderly woman. No charges were filed.

Now, when her key didn’t work in the car, what was the lady’s reaction? Did she say, “All keys are basically the same”? Did she complain that the car would only accept one key? No, she was grateful she had a key to her car (as soon as she found it!).

In our Yearning 2 Know series, we’ve asked what happens when we die, and what does the Bible teach about heaven and hell. Now we’ll ask the most confusing question of the entire series: Is Jesus the only way to God? Is he the only way to avoid hell and go to heaven when we die? And what practical impact does the answer have for us today?

What did Jesus say?

First, let’s make sure we know what Jesus actually said. Let’s get past all the popular opinion, and denominational differences. What did Jesus really say? In our text he states four facts.

One: he is God (v. 1). “Believe in God; believe also in me,” he says. Later: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (v. 9). The disciples are troubled about his impending death, but he is not. All is well, he claims—I’m in charge. I am God.

Earlier the Jewish authorities had tried to stone Jesus for blasphemy, “because you claim to be God” (10:33). Make no mistake: Jesus clearly claims that he is God. Other religious leaders claim to reveal God; Jesus claims to be God.

Two: he is preparing a place for us in heaven (v. 2). “Prepare” means to go before and make ready for the arrival of others. Other religious leaders speak of heaven, and even tell their followers how to go there. Jesus says he is going there first, ahead of us, to make things ready. No one ever made this claim before.

Three: he will take us there himself (v. 3). “Take you to be with me” means “to walk alongside of.” Jesus hasn’t gone home and left us directions for finding our way there. He will come back to us and lead us there, personally. Again, no one else ever claimed this.

Four: he is the only way to heaven. Others said, “I know the way, the truth, and the life” or “I teach the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Earlier he said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). He is the only way, truth, and life.

Do you hear these claims to uniqueness? I am God; I am preparing your place in heaven; I will take you there; I alone can take you there. Jesus is the only way to God—the text makes this claim clear.

And this is by no means the only place where the word of God makes this claim. Remember John 1:14: “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John 1:18 is dogmatic: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Jesus clearly claims to be the only way to the Father, and the rest of the New Testament says he’s right.

Aren’t all religions basically the same?

Now let’s ask some common questions. First, aren’t all religions basically the same? Don’t they all pray to the same God and teach the same basic ideas? Aren’t they just different roads up the same mountain?

Nearly two-third of all Americans think they are. 64% say they all pray to the same God. And 56% say that you can work your way to heaven by being good, no matter what religion you claim.

Hindu temples have increased 1000% in America in the last ten years. There are more Muslims than Episcopalians in our country. And they are people of reverence, too. I’ve seen Buddhists burn a year’s salary in paper money at the grave of an ancestor, and Muslims leave their mosques with their foreheads bleeding from praying on their rugs so fervently. What about them? Are they all the same? Decide for yourself. Consider these very basic facts:

Hinduism teaches that there are many “gods” but no “God”—no personal Creator who is Lord of all. We are “atman,” part of “Brahman,” and “moksha” or “salvation” comes through multiple reincarnations when we are absorbed into ultimate reality. No eternal souls or independent existence—we cease to be.

Buddhism affirms the four noble truths and eightfold noble path, by which we can come to “Nirvana,” a “blowing out” where we cease to be. No such thing as God in the sense of Lord; no heaven where we live personally with God forever.

Islam believes in “Allah,” the sovereign God. But he has no Son, and “salvation” comes through obedience to the Koran, their Scriptures.

Judaism worships our Jehovah God, but refuses to believe that he has a Son or that he is the Messiah, crucified for us. Of course they would not accept John 14:6, or any other claim that Jesus is God.

To say that all religions are the same would be like saying that all keys are the same—it doesn’t matter which one you use, so long as you’re sincere. The religions are each different, and mutually exclusive. If one is right, none of the rest can be.

The uniqueness of Christianity lies in the idea of grace. The world’s religions center in our works, by which we strive to earn acceptance from God, the gods, or experience enlightenment and Nirvana. We climb up to “heaven,” whatever it is. But only in Christianity does God climb down to us, to be one of us. Only in Christianity does God take us to be with him, by grace through faith.

In India during World War I, people of different faiths decided to meet together in an act of mutual worship and encouragement. However, the idea had to be abandoned because they couldn’t determine how to begin the service. They had no common ground whatsoever. The Christians suggested that at least they could all repeat the Lord’s Prayer. But it begins, “Our Father, which art in heaven,” and none of the other religions agreed.

The different religions teach very different ideas. They hold very different keys. You must decide which one works.

What about the “ignorant”?

What of those who have never heard of Jesus? Who don’t know what we’ve said this morning? Those who, like Thomas, don’t know or understand? What of them?

The fact is, our Lord never intended there to be any “ignorant.” He didn’t tell us what to do about them, except to tell them. If we know someone who doesn’t know about Jesus, tell them.

Note that this is a speculative, rational problem, not a practical issue for us. If you can ask the question, it doesn’t apply to you. And no theory exempts us from telling the “ignorant” about Jesus.

The most popular answer is, “God judges people according to the light they have.” Then why give them more light? Why do missions? Yet we are commanded to “make disciples of all nations.”

Others say, “God knows what they would do, given the chance.” Then why give them the chance? Others say, “All are saved through Christ, whether they believe or not.” Then why do missions? And what of John 3:16: “whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Still others say, “They cannot be lost if they’ve never heard.” Then we shouldn’t tell them, for they might reject Jesus. But Jesus told us to tell them. And still others say, “God knows if they’re sincere.” But we can be sincerely wrong.

Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God”; Romans 6:23 adds, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” What will God do with those who haven’t heard? The only answer the Bible gives us is: tell them. Trust the Lord, and tell them.

And we can. If we tell people, who tell people, who tell people, the world can know. By multiplication, one a day, the world’s population can know of Jesus in 31 days.

What about the ignorant,those who don’t know about the key to heaven? Tell them.

Why is there only one way?

One last question: why would God insist on only one way to himself? Many people say, “A loving God would never be that narrow.” But here are the facts.

One: God gave his best for our salvation. He gave his only Son to pay the debt for our sin. No other religious leader died for his people, but Jesus died for us.

Two: through Christ, salvation is free and open to all people. You don’t have to go through years of ascetic discipline, or obedience to holy writings, to hopefully come up to God. God has come down to us. Every person on earth is free to come to God through Christ, today.

Three: this way works for everyone. The key works, no matter who uses it. I don’t need another key if this one starts the car. I don’t need another chemotherapy if this one kills my cancer. Jesus is sufficient for us all.


What does all this mean to you this morning? First, make certain Jesus is your Savior, this morning. He is the only way to God you need, but he is also the only way to God you have. All gifts must be received. Receive the gift of his grace and love. Take the key and use it.

Second, give it to those who don’t have it. Pray for those you know; talk with them; invite them to Jesus. This is your responsibility, and mine.

Last week I spoke of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. A scene on a calendar depicts Colonel Booth, out on a rough sea at night in a small lifeboat. As the waves rage, Booth is reaching out his hand to pull in a survivor who is lost at sea. A small vignette in the corner shows Booth’s granddaughter asking her grandmother, “Grandma, is granddaddy trying to save that man or only shaking hands with him?”

What would your friends say you’re doing for them?

When Will Jesus Return?

When Will Jesus Return?

Acts 1:6-11

Dr. Jim Denison

At one time Martin Luther thought the Pope was the Antichrist, and expected Jesus’ return during his lifetime. Christopher Columbus thought the world would end in 1656, and that his explorations would lead a Christian army in the final crusade to convert the world. Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, predicted the rapture in 1910 and the end of the world in 1914.

Closer to home, Harold Camping wrote the bestseller 1994? in which he predicted the end would come on September 6, 1994. Edgar Whisenant published Eighty-eight Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988, and sold thousands of copies. Trinity Broadcasting Network president Paul Crouch predicted an apocalyptic event for June 9, 1994.

We have multiple end-times theories being taught and believed today. Preterists think Revelation has mostly been fulfilled already. The Continuous-Historical school thinks different verses have been fulfilled at different times in church history. The Symbolic school sees the book as entirely symbolic, with no reference to literal history. The Postmillennialists say the church will bring in the millennium, then Jesus will return; the Amillennialists expect neither a literal tribulation nor millennium. The Historic Premillennialists expect Jesus’ second coming and then the millennium; the Dispensationalists expect a rapture, seven-year tribulation, then Jesus’ coming and the millennium.

Each position is held by conservative, Bible-believing scholars.

I am a “pan-millennialist” myself—it will all pan out in the end. What are you?

In our Yearning 2 Know series we’ve looked at death, heaven, hell, judgment, and suffering. We close with the most urgent question of all: when will Jesus return? And, how does the answer affect your life today?

The perennial question (6-7)

After Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared to his disciples “over a period of forty days and spoke to them about the kingdom of God” (v. 3). He then promised them the Holy Spirit (v. 5). They knew that the coming of the Spirit and the coming of the Kingdom were related. So in response, they asked the question Christians have been asking ever since: “Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (v. 6).

Their question was logical, but wrong. Calvin said, “There are as many errors in this question as words.”

Jesus says, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (v. 7). “Times or dates” refers to specific dates as well as years.

“Not for you” refers to Jesus’ first and closest disciples—Peter, James, John, the others, and even Mary and his brothers. If Jesus wouldn’t tell them when he would return, will he tell you and me?

If discovering the time of his return was possible by scriptural exegesis, or spiritual commitment, would they not have determined it? To say that I know what Peter, James, John, and Mary did not know is egotism, to say the least.

The Father has placed this decision in his authority alone. Jesus said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come” (Mark 13:32-33).

Paul said Jesus’ coming would be as surprising and unanticipated as a “thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:1). Peter made the same prediction (1 Peter 3:10).

Listen to Jesus’ warning: “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him….It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Luke 12:35-36, 38-40).

No one but God knows when Jesus will return. We must be ready every day, for it could be any day. This is the clear teaching of God’s word.

The practical response (8)

Why, then, does the Second Coming matter? Jesus makes clear the practical response to our perennial question: “You will be my witnesses.”

The Bible is not a speculative book. We ask rational, philosophical questions. We want to know about creation and the end-times, two subjects about which we can do nothing.

But God’s word was not written in the western, Greek, rational tradition. It is a Hebrew book, written from the Hebrew present-tense, practical world view. It seldom tells us all we want to know, but it tells us more than we can do.

And it is clear: “You will be my witnesses.” No one knows when Jesus will return, so everyone must be ready. You and I must be ready. Then we must help other people to be ready.

And we have only today to do so. The early Christians were sure about this. And so they lived in the daily expectation of Jesus’ imminent return. They wanted to be found doing what they would be doing if they knew Jesus were coming back that day. They wanted everyone they knew to be right with God, today. They had a passion for missions and evangelism, for they knew the time was short.

And they were right. Jesus may come back for us all today. Or you and I may go to him. Either way, the time is short.

Listen to the word of God:

Romans 13:11-13: “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime.” Are you living in the “daytime”?

2 Peter 3:11-12: “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” Are you looking forward to his return?

John 9:4: “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no man can work.” Are you doing his works while you can?

1 John 2:28: “And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.” If it were today, would you be “confident and unashamed before him”?

Revelation 16:15: “Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.” Are you awake? Are you ready?

Revelation 22:12: “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.”

If right now you’re thinking, “I have plenty of time, this doesn’t apply to me,” know that you are deceived and wrong. I’m sure you’ve heard the old story about the time the devil had a meeting of his demons to decide how best to deceive men and women. One said, “Let’s tell them there’s no heaven,” but the devil said that wouldn’t work, that God has put heaven in every heart and we know it’s real. Another said, “Let’s tell them there’s no hell,” but the devil said that people know wrong must be punished, so that won’t work. Finally a third said, “Let’s tell them there’s no hurry.” And they did. And they still do.

The glorious promise (9-11)

So we are not to speculate about Jesus’ return, but work hard to be ready for it. Then one day, it will come. Just as he rose to heaven, so he will come again one day to earth.

Jesus’ ascension is no literary invention, but a real fact of history. Seven times the New Testament speaks of it, and its importance (cf. 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 3:22; Acts 2:32-33; Luke 24:50-53; John 6:62; John 20:17; Ephesians 1:18-23).

His ascension tells us much that matters. It tells us what happened to Jesus. He’s not “Missing in Action”—we know where he is. It says that he accomplished what he came to do, or he would not have returned to heaven. It says that he is truly divine, for he is in heaven where he belongs. It says that he now rules the world from his place of power in glory. And it says that the ministry of the Holy Spirit, through his church, is the best way to build his Kingdom on earth. The ascension is real and relevant.

And his return will be just as real. Buddha never made this promise, or Mohammad, or Confucius, or Joseph Smith. But Jesus did.

He told his disciples, “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:27-28).

He told the high priest, “You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62).

He said, “Men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens” (Mark 13:26-27).

Revelation 1:7 shouts, “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.”


So I must ask you, are you ready to see him? If it were today, would you mourn or rejoice? If you knew he were coming back today, would you change your life? How?

The tragedy in Fort Worth made one fact clear: no one is promised tomorrow. No place can guarantee your safety. He may come for us, or you may go to him. Today.

So witnessing is urgent. Next week John will introduce the Seed Initiative to us again. For now, please begin praying for four lost people to come to Christ. Urgently. Write their names down. Commit their salvation to God. Pledge to do all you can to make it so. Know that the time is short.

Dwight Moody gave the gospel one Sunday, then told his vast congregation to go home and think about it. The next Sunday he would give an invitation, and he would expect them to come to Jesus. But that night the Great Chicago Fire began. 18,000 buildings were destroyed; $200 million was lost, a third of the entire city’s value. No one knows how many died, but some estimates range as high as 15,000 casualties, many of whom had been in Moody’s service. He never waited again.

Nor should we.

Why Do God’s People Suffer?

Why Do God’s People Suffer?

Matthew 5:10-12

Dr. Jim Denison

Innocent suffering is the greatest single problem confronting the Christian faith. We Christians believe three facts about God:

God is all loving—he would want to end evil and suffering, it would seem.

God is all powerful—he could end evil and suffering.

Evil exists—it is not merely the product of wrong thinking or appearance, but very real and very deadly.

The easy answer to innocent suffering is to minimize one of these three convictions. Some will say that the Fort Worth tragedy happened because God is not all loving, and is somehow punishing them; or it happened because God either doesn’t or can’t get involved in such things; or it isn’t real. We’re past the stage of denial, so we must either question God’s love, his power, or both; or find a better solution.

Let’s find that better solution together today, from the word of God, not just for the victims of the shooting, but for every person who faces suffering today or tomorrow.

Truths for troubled times

Our text makes four statements plain. First, we will be persecuted.

Jesus does not say, “Blessed are you if people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (v. 11). He says, “Blessed are you when people insult you ….”

The Greek grammar actually says, “Blessed are those who have been and are now being persecuted” (v. 10). Suffering is a fact of the faith.

Listen to 1 Peter 4:12: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” Suffering is a part of the Christian life.

Around the world, 500,000 are killed every year simply because they are Christians. Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott were murdered at Columbine High School specifically because they stood up for Jesus. Seven people were killed in Fort Worth last Wednesday because they were Christians.

Jesus was clear: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). Christians will be persecuted for their faith.

The second truth of our text is that such suffering is not our fault.

Christians die in plane crashes and car accidents like everyone else. We get cancer like the rest of the population. But sometimes we suffer specifically because of our faith. When we do, such suffering is not our fault.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness” (v. 10). He amplified, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (v. 11).

Listen again to Peter: “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:15-16).

There is a great spiritual battle going on between God and Satan, between good and evil. We are the turf. And the African proverb is right: “When elephants fight, the grass is trampled.”

Those who died in Fort Worth were doing exactly what they should have been doing. After standing up for Jesus on their campus, they stood up for him at their church. Now they’re standing in his presence forever, blessed by his joy. Suffering for Jesus is not our fault.

The third truth of our text is that God will redeem our suffering for him.

We are to “rejoice and be glad” for this reason: “great is your reward in heaven” (v. 12).

Not because suffering is good, for it is not. But because God will redeem our suffering for a greater good one day. God redeemed Joseph’s slavery, using him to save the nation; God redeemed Moses’ years in the wilderness, calling him to shepherd his people; God redeemed John’s suffering on Patmos by giving him the Revelation; God redeemed Jesus’ cross with his crown.

God will redeem this suffering somehow. He will use it for good, as we’ll see in a moment.

And so innocent suffering has always been part of the life of faith.

Listen to Hebrews 11: “Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. They were all commended for their faith” (vs. 36-39).

Remember Jim Elliott, the martyred missionary, and his motto: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Those who died in Fort Worth were not fools—they were faithful. And God will be faithful to them, and to us.

Why do God’s people suffer?

On the basis of this text and the larger word of God, let’s ask our question: Why do God’s people suffer? There is no single answer to the question. Instead, we need to build a “theodicy” together—a theological approach to evil and suffering. There are six facts which make up that approach, and I want us to be very clear about each one of them.

Fact one: God is love. Remember 1 John 4:8: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” God didn’t “do” this. He didn’t cause this. Rather, he grieved it. If a father in that sanctuary watched his child die, how would he feel? God did that at Calvary, and again in Fort Worth last Wednesday. No matter how bad this fallen world becomes, God is love.

Fact two: Satan is real. 1 Peter 5:8 is plain: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” We have an enemy who wants to destroy us.

Jesus warned us that he “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). This is just what he did last Wednesday. John 8:44 says that Satan “was a murderer from the beginning.”

And in this fallen, sinful world, he attacks God’s people and God’s creation. He is not behind everything wrong that happens in the world. But what happened last Wednesday night was an attack used by the enemy himself. Satan is real.

Fact three: we have free will. God created us to worship him (Matthew 4:10), and worship requires freedom. So God made us with free will (Genesis 2:15-17), which we have misused.

James 1:13-15 explains what the gunman did and why: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

When we misuse our free will, evil and suffering result. This fact doesn’t explain why the innocent suffer, but it does explain why the guilty sin.

Fact four: God will use this suffering. Romans 8:28 does not say that all things are good. But it does promise that God works through all things for good. This he will do.

I think of the witness of the faithful Christians at Columbine, and its global impact. I predict the same effect from the faith we’ve seen displayed by Wedgwood Baptist Church, her pastor and people. God will use this suffering.

Fact five: there is great hope. Those who died last Wednesday are with Jesus. He told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Paul said, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians1:21). Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).

We will grieve the years they did not get to live, but they do not. They are in glory, in joy, in the perfect reward and eternal presence of Jesus himself. They are well. And we will see them again. As they reckon time in heaven, it will only be a moment before they see us again.

We will understand one day what we do not today: “One day I shall know, even as I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Paul was sure: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). There is great hope.

Six: God is with us. Remember God’s assurance: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3).

I love this promise: “When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you” (Deuteronomy 20:1).

Peter told his suffering people: “Cast all your anxiety on God because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). God hurts as we hurt; he suffers as we suffer; he is Immanuel, God with us.


So, what do we do about suffering now?

Make sure of your own relationship with Jesus Christ. He will be your strength, shield, hope, and help, but you must allow him to be so. Give your life and soul to him as your Savior and Lord, today.

Minister to those who grieve. Pray for Wedgwood, and those hurt by this. Seek actively to help them. Get involved personally.

And minister to the hurting, lonely people around us. The man who did this needed someone to care about him, to reach him. When Lee Harvey Oswald was a boy, he was sent home by a Baptist church in Dallas because he wasn’t dressed properly for church, and he never went back. Some of us know someone who especially needs our love, attention, and compassion.

Meanwhile, know that those who were killed were not really. They are with God, in his presence, eternally.

Some time ago, a family asked me to read these words at a funeral, and I’ve treasured them every since: “I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

“Then someone at my side says, ‘There, she is gone!’ Gone where?

“Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

“Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says, ‘There, she is gone!’ there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, ‘Here she comes!'”

They are with God, and God is with us. This is the Father’s promise to us today.