A City on a Hill

A City on a Hill

Matthew 16:13-20

Dr. Jim Denison

The scene is one of the most dramatic in all of God’s word. The Galilean Carpenter stands on a massive outcropping of rock, 1150 feet above sea level, dwarfed by the gigantic cliff which towered above it.

Just a short distance away stands the brilliant white marble temple built to the worship of Caesar, hence the name of the place, Caesarea.

Nearby is the cavern where the Greeks said their god Pan was born.

Scattered around the hilly countryside are fourteen temples to Baal, the Canaanite god where the Syrians worshipped.

And nearby is one of the origins of the Jordan River, the holiest river to his own people, the Jews.

In the midst of such religious traditions and fervor, surrounded by every kind of god known to his culture, he asks his rag-tag band of peasant followers, “Who do you say that I am?” And one of them declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And the Carpenter says, “On this rock I will build my church.” And the Church is born.

On this Heritage Weekend, we look back with pride and gratitude to our history and heritage. And even more important, we look forward to our future with faith. Jesus called us a “city on a hill, which cannot be hid.” Today I will tell you why.

See the rock on which we stand

First, let us consider together the heritage of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church.” Which rock? Peter? No, the church does not stand on a man. Peter’s faith? No, the church does not stand on the faith of a man. Himself. Jesus pointed to himself, for Scripture is clear: “no one can lay any other foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). His Church, the church, belongs to Jesus Christ. He founded us, twenty centuries ago at Caesarea Philippi. We are his.

The Church is the idea and passion of Jesus, and his answer to the problems of mankind. Jesus could have established any institution, begun any movement. He could have left behind any entity to carry on his work on earth. And he founded the church. For this singular purpose and future: “the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (v. 18).

The Church exists to assault the gates of Hell. Not to withstand the assault of Hell upon us—to assault them. To take the gospel of God’s love into our fallen, dark, dying, decaying, immoral world. Not to wait for them to find us—to find them. To go to them with the incredible good news that God loves us.

On this Heritage Weekend, let us be very clear about our founding and our future. We exist by the creation of Jesus Christ, to take the incredible news of his love to our lost and dying world. This is the rock on which we stand, and the purpose for which we exist.

And this rock will stand forever. This foundation is sure.

The Golden Gate bridge was completed in 1937, at a cost of $35 million. It stands directly over the San Andreas Fault, and yet it can withstand an earthquake measuring 7.0 in the Richter Scale. Why?

Its two great cables contain enough strands of steel wire to circle the globe three times. The concrete in its piers would pave a five-foot wide sidewalk from New York to San Francisco. But the cables and the concrete are not the secret to the bridge’s great stability.

The secret is simple. Every part of the bridge, from the concrete roadway to the steel railings and cross beams, is related ultimately to two great towers and two anchor piers. The towers are deeply imbedded into the rock foundation beneath the sea. In other words, the entire bridge is totally committed to its foundation.

So should we be. Each of us. See the rock on which the Church stands today. No earthquakes, no storms can shake us so long as we are bolted to this foundation.

Celebrate the heritage we have been given

We’ve seen where the Church began. Now on this Heritage Weekend let’s draw the circle more tightly. Let’s remember where the Baptist church comes from, and this church. Then we’ll see why this heritage matters to your soul and mine.

Meet John Smyth. Smyth and his follower, Thomas Helwys, were members of the Church of England. But they became increasingly convicted about three facts: in Scripture, believers can come to God without a mediator or priest save Jesus; in Scripture, believers have a personal relationship with Christ, and are baptized only then; in Scripture, the state does not govern the church, or the church the state.

And so in the year 1606, Smyth and Helwys led a movement which broke with the established state Church of England, beginning the group known as Baptists today. To shorten a long story, by the year 1630 there were six Baptist congregations with 150 members. These Baptists experienced various periods of persecution and tolerance at the hands of the British monarchy.

As a result, in 1631 Roger Williams fled England in search of religious freedom. In March of 1936 he helped to found the first Baptist church in North America: First Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island.

From such humble beginnings, Baptists have grown to become the largest Protestant denomination in the world. In time, Baptists moved across the frontier and became the largest Protestant movement in Texas, and in Dallas.

And so in early 1939, Dr. George W. Truett, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas and one of the greatest leaders Baptists have ever known, announced that “There ought to be a church” in the Park Cities. Park Cities Baptist Church was organized on Thursday evening, October 26, 1939, by the action of some three dozen persons gathered in the auditorium of the City Hall in University Park.

Our first services were held at the University Park Elementary School. The church family moved in 1940 to a house, at 4201 Lovers Lane, which they purchased for $11,000. On Mother’s Day of 1948 the congregation broke ground at this location.

This church family has grown from three dozen to 9,500 members, from a first offering of $36.35 to an annual budget of $8,989,615, and from a tiny congregation to the largest contributor to missions causes among Baptist churches in the United States.

Across our history as Baptists, our guiding principles and distinctives have been clear. We are different from most other denominations in several ways:

We believe in personal salvation. You are not born into this church. You must be born again to be a member of a Baptist church.

We believe in no creed but the Bible. We have no statements of faith you must sign to be a Baptist or a member of our church.

We believe in local church autonomy and freedom. We have no denominational authorities, no bishop or cardinal or pope. We cooperate voluntarily with other Baptists in Dallas through the Dallas Baptist Association, in Texas with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and nationally with both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. But the leaders of these organizations have no authority over our church. They do not dictate our pastor or staff leaders, make policies, own our lands, or have any control of our decisions. We are a free, autonomous church, responsible only to the Lord Jesus Christ.

We believe in the “priesthood of the believer,” your right to come to God and to interpret his word as his Spirit leads you. We have no spiritual intermediaries, no need to confess our sins to a priest or anyone other that Jesus.

We believe that church and state should be separate, neither controlling the other.

And we believe that every member is a minister of the gospel, not just the ordained or seminary-trained “clergy” on our staff.

Embrace the future God has planned

So we have identified the rock on which we stand, and celebrated the heritage we have been given. Now, why does this history and heritage matter to your life today?

Let’s go back to our future again. We exist to assault the gates of Hell. To take Christ to this community, to this state, to this country, to this world. To make disciples of all nations, as the Great Commission charges. If IBM exists to make computers and Ford Motor exists to make cars, we exist to make disciples.

How does this future happen? Only when you and I make it happen. Baptists believe that every believer is a priest before God and a minister before the world. As we see it, in God’s eyes there are no members here—only ministers. Only women and men and young people called by God to take his gospel to our community, our culture, and our world.

Our church, and the Church, has a future only if we make it so.

To this end, I am delighted to make a very significant announcement today: the creation of the Herbert and Martha Howard Center for Christian Studies.

Forty years ago this month, then-pastor Dr. Herbert Howard led in the formation of the University of Christian Life, a strategy for helping Christians grow in their faith and fulfill their ministry callings. With the Howard Center, we will bring that dream into the 21st century.

Dr. John Plotts will lead the Center. Dr. Plotts is a member of our church, and has served as Executive Vice President of Dallas Baptist University before agreeing to assume this responsibility. His Ph.D. in educational administration and M.Div. from Dallas Theological Seminary qualify him to lead us effectively. And his heart and passion for equipping Christians to serve Jesus will encourage us all.

A donor has made available the funds to begin our Center’s work. We will work to develop Sunday school curriculum as needed, to make our existing LIFEtime courses even more effective, to make our training classes available on the Internet and by other communication technologies, to offer lectureships and a journal as well. Faculty from around the nation will be engaged by distance learning. In time, other churches and denominations will join us in this work. We will be able to train Christians to do their ministries, literally around the world.

With the help of the Howard Center and the excellent educational and program ministries already available at Park Cities Baptist Church, we are poised to seize the greatest future our church has ever known. To take Christ to every person in north Dallas, and to partner with others to touch the world.

Our heritage enables our future, to the glory of God.


Now, you are our future, under the leadership of Jesus Christ. Will you be a disciple of Jesus, his fully-devoted follower? Will you be his minister, his servant, a disciple fully engaged in the personal ministry he intends for your life? Not for the sake of your church, but for the sake of your Christ.

On this historic weekend, I call us each to the greatest and most passionate personal commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ we have known. I challenge you to identify and fulfill his ministry call for your life. I promise you the greatest power, purpose, and significance your life could know.

No members, only ministers. That is God’s will, our Baptist heritage, and our future together. All because we love Jesus.

Here’s a model for us today. This confession of faith was written by an African Christian, a man later martyred for his faith. It has been so powerful in my life that I have learned it and made it mine. On this Heritage Weekend, would you make this commitment yours as well, to the glory of God? Listen to this statement of passion for Jesus:

“I am part of the ‘Fellowship of the Unashamed.’ I have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I’ve stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals.

“I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by his presence, lean by faith, love by patience, live by prayer, and labor by power.

“My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal in heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of compromise, pander at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

“I won’t give up, shut up, let up, or slow up until I’ve preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ.

“I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go until he comes, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until he stops.

“And when he comes to get his own, he’ll have no problems recognizing me—my colors will be clear.”


How to Get an Appointment with God

How to Get an Appointment with God

Matthew 27.51-54

Dr. Jim Denison

A few years ago our family went to Washington, D.C. on summer vacation. The highlight of the trip for me, I was sure, was going to be our visit to the White House. I’ve long been fascinated with presidential history, and have read with interest the stories of many of our presidents and the remarkable House they occupy. Now, at long last, I would see its storied rooms and historic halls for myself.

Not really, as it turned out. After waiting in the rain an hour the night before to buy tickets, and two hours the day of our tour, finally we entered the most visited site in America. And left nearly as quickly. Four rooms, and a souvenir shop at the end. That’s all the White House tour sees.

So we cannot see the office of our president—perhaps we can call him. Again, not really. The White House switchboard answers over 5,000 calls every day, and this number doubles in times of crisis. Not to mention the thousands of letters which are delivered each day, and the hundreds of people who try to get a personal appointment with the president. Of all these requests, the president personally sees only a small number, and of these he actually deals with only a few.

By comparison, our Father in heaven receives multiplied millions of prayers daily, millions at this very moment, in hundreds of languages. And yet he is able to hear and answer every one of them. Why? And why does this fact matter to your soul and mine?

In our series titled “These Things We Believe,” we’ve talked together about Bible freedom and church freedom. Today we’ll explore soul freedom and its enormous implications for every one of us.

How you became a priest

Our text describes the actual moment of Jesus’ death in remarkable detail. These few words are worthy of an entire series of study in themselves.

He “cried out again in a loud voice.” John tells us that his last word from the cross was “Tetelestai!” which means, “It is finished!” or “The victory is won!” The strength to make this “loud” cry (“mega” in the Greek) shows that Jesus still had energy and life at his command.

And so he “gave up his spirit.” This was his voluntary choice. Augustine said it well: “He gave up his life because he willed it, when he willed it, and as he willed it.”Where? Into his Father’s hands (Luke 23:46), into Paradise with the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43), into the glory the Son had from eternity (John 17:5).

Now comes the miracle which is our focus today: “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (v. 51). I’ve never preached a message specifically on that event before today, and was fascinated with what I learned about it this week.

This curtain was the great veil which separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Jewish temple. A little background is essential here.

Abraham offered Isaac on the top of Mt. Moriah eighteen centuries earlier, making that rock a holy spot to the Jewish people. And so when Solomon built the first Jewish Temple in 1004 B.C., he located the Holy of Holies at the same spot.

This was a small room, thirty feet square, within the larger Temple. Here the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments was placed. Here the High Priest would come one day a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), to offer sacrifice for the sins of the people. In the Jewish mind, the Shekinah glory and presence of Jehovah God dwelt here as in no other room on earth.

And this Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the Temple, and the rest of humanity, by a magnificent veil. Sixty feet high, thirty feet wide, as thick as a man’s hand, the veil was so heavy the Jewish Talmud says 300 men were required to move it.

Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, describes it as “embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful” (Wars 5.5.4).

Now, in the moment of Jesus’ death at 3 o’clock that afternoon, as the priests were gathering in the Temple for the customary evening sacrifices, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”

This was in every way a miracle. An earthquake would have shredded the veil, not torn it. Even if men could have torn the thick, heavy veil, they would have done so from bottom to top, not top to bottom,

This is a fact of history, not religious myth. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record it, writing at a time when the eyewitnesses to the torn curtain were still living and could easily have refuted them if they were wrong. And Tacitus the Roman historian, Josephus, and the Jewish Talmud all refer in various ways to the event as well.

Why did God do this? I admire Lenski’s comment: “Jesus is dead, his lips are silent; now God speaks in a language of his own.”Just as the Jewish people tore their garments in times of grief, so God the Father tears this, the “garment” veiling his Most Holy Place, in grief as well.

But there’s more. By tearing aside the veil separating humanity from the Holy of Holies, God gave access to his inner sanctuary to all of mankind. Now, for the first time in Jewish history, anyone could come to God. Anyone could see into his presence. Anyone could speak to him. Anyone.

Now for the first time, women could come into his presence. For the first time, Gentiles. For the first time, men besides the one High Priest chosen for each generation. For the first time, you and me.

Today the veil is gone, the Holy of Holies is gone, the very Temple itself is gone. Their purpose is done, their work completed. Now God’s word declares, “You yourselves are God’s Temple and God’s Spirit lives in you…. God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16, 17).

The Jews and the Muslims will continue to fight over the rock where the Holy of Holies used to be. But that’s all it is now—a rock. For you and I are the Temple of God. The veil is gone. We can come to God. Every one of us.

Now, why does this fact matter so much to your soul and mine today?

How to enter the presence of God

The tearing of the veil separating mankind from God means this for you and me: we are each priests before God.

We are each responsible for our own personal relationship with the God of the universe. God has no grandchildren. We each must be his child, his priest.

Baptists call this doctrine “the priesthood of the believer.” This is the idea of soul freedom—the theological conviction that you have the right and responsibility to interpret Scripture for yourself; to confess your sins to God; to give your needs to God; to offer your worship to God.

The veil is gone. Now you can come to God. Now you must.

What steps can you take to come into his presence every day? To be right with the God of the universe, right now? Let’s use the Jewish Temple as our model. If you had been a priest in Jesus’ day, able to come before God as they did, you would have taken these steps, literally.

First, you would go to the “Sea,” a bronze basin filled with water, so large that twelve priests could wash at one time. Here you would wash your hands, ceremonially cleansing yourself spiritually for the service you are about to render.

To be a priest before God today, start with confession. Be specific and honest. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you your sins, and admit them to God. And claim his promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Next, you would come to the great altar of sacrifice, 48 feet square and 15 feet high. A ramp, 48 feet long and 24 feet wide, led up to the altar. Here you would place the sacrificial animals as required—the lamb, the bull, the dove.

At Calvary, Jesus became the final sacrifice for you and me. He is “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). He died in your place and mine, to pay for our sins and bear our punishment, to purchase our salvation.

So, after you confess your sins to Christ, thank Christ for his death and love. Thank him for his grace and mercy. Worship him in thanksgiving.

And submit your life to him in gratitude. To be a priest before God, lay your life on the altar before him. Obey the command of Scripture: “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).

Come to the altar in thanksgiving and submission.

Now the priest would come into the Holy Place, the court outside the Holy of Holies, 60 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 30 feet high. Here he would burn incense in worship and offer prayers of intercession.

To be a priest before God, “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4). Speak the Psalms in praise; sing hymns and choruses in praise; offer him your gratitude for his attributes, his glory, his goodness to you. Worship him in thanksgiving and praise.

And give him your needs in intercession and faith. Be specific and honest. Ask his best for you and those you bring to him.

Finally, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would come into the Holy of Holies itself. He would tie a rope around his foot, trailing outside the veil, so that if he died in the awesome presence of God and the bells on the hem of his robe stopped ringing, the priests outside could drag his dead body out. He came before God in reverence and humility. Here he knew he entered the presence of Jehovah, the God of the universe.

Do the same as the priest of God today. You have confessed your sins and claimed God’s forgiveness; you have thanked him for Jesus and submitted your life to his lordship; you have given him your praise and made your requests. Now sit in stillness before God. Listen to him. Feel him. Be with him.

An elderly man came every morning to his church and sat quietly in the sanctuary for hours. One day his pastor asked him what he did during those long hours of silence. He said, “I look at God and he looks at me, and we tell each other that we love each other.”

How long has it been since you listened to your Father?


Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus has torn the veil separating us from God, and now every one of us has the right—and the responsibility—of personal access to the Creator of the universe. Each of us is our own priest before God.

If you knew that the next president of the United States wanted you to come to his Inauguration and meet with him in the Oval Office, you’d accept. And you’d begin preparations right now for such an honor.

My friend, the God of the universe wants you to meet with him in his Holy of Holies, today. He wants to hear your confession, your thanksgiving, your submission, your praise, your requests. And he wants to speak to your heart and soul. He is ready. Are you?

Make an hour today to take each of these steps to God as his priest, and then to meet with him in silence. To speak to him, and then to listen to him. Especially to listen.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta authored one of the most profound statements I’ve ever read on our subject. Hear these words reverently:

We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness.

God is a friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grow in silence. See the stars, the moon, the sun, how they move in silence….

The more we receive in silent prayer, the more we can give in our active life. We need silence to be able to touch souls.

The essential thing is not what we say, but what God says to us and through us.

All our words will be useless unless they come from within. Words which do not give the Light of Christ increase the darkness.

Will your life and your soul give the Light of Christ today?

Love Letters from Home

Love Letters from Home

Luke 24:25-32

Dr. Jim Denison

Billy Graham was thirty, and already a well-known evangelist, when he came to a crisis of faith. Could he believe the Bible to be the word of God? His friend Chuck Templeton and others were raising doubts in his heart. In his autobiography, Just As I Am, he tells the story of what happened next.

He took a walk in the moonlight of the San Bernardino Mountains in California. He dropped to his knees in the woods, opened his Bible and put it on a tree stump before him. He prayed, “O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solution. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions Chuck and others are raising.”

Finally he was able to say, “Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word—by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.”

He says, “When I got up from my knees at Forest Home that August night, my eyes stung with tears. I sensed the presence and power of God as I had not sensed it in months. Not all my questions were answered, but a major bridge had been crossed. In my heart and mind, I knew a spiritual battle in my soul had been fought and won” (Just As I Am, 139; emphasis his).

He was right. And you know the results.

Billy Graham is a Baptist. Like him, Baptists have always been “people of the book.” We have always opposed creeds, man-made statements of faith which are required for Christians. But we have strongly believed the Bible to be the word of God. Augustine called the Bible, “love letters from home,” and we agree. “No creed but the Bible” is our motto historically.

Today I want to tell you why that is so, and especially why our beliefs about the Bible matter to your soul this day.

Learning from the Source

Luke 24 tells one of my favorite stories in Scripture. Remember how these two people are walking home to the village of Emmaus, 7½ miles to the west of Jerusalem, on Easter Sunday evening. One is named Cleopas; we’re not told the name of his companion.

They’ve been to Jerusalem, and know all about Jesus.

They know that he was “a prophet, powerful in word and deed” (v. 19).

They know that the chief priests and rulers “handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him” (v. 20).

They had hoped that he was the Messiah, “the one who was going to redeem Israel” (v. 21).

And they have heard the rumor that “he was alive” (v. 23).

A more compact Christology, one cannot find in Scripture.

But while they knew about Jesus, they didn’t know Jesus. As he joined them along the road, “they were kept from recognizing him” (v. 16). And so he showed them who he really was, and what he came to do: “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (v. 27).

“Moses and all the Prophets” refers to the Old Testament, as we call it today.

To “explain” is to teach, to translate, to interpret. This is the Greek word from which we get “hermeneutics,” which means “to interpret.”

He showed them “what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

He could have shown them how his virgin birth was predicted in Genesis 3:15, his lineage was described through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesse, and David; his birthplace predicted in Micah 5:2; his ministry in Isaiah 9; his suffering in Isaiah 53; his death and resurrection in Psalm 22; his return in Daniel 7.

He could have referenced the 48 major messianic prophecies he fulfilled. The odds of fulfilling just eight of them is one in ten to the seventeenth power; to picture this, fill the state of Texas two feet deep in silver dollars, mark one with a dot, and ask me to find it. He showed them all the ways the Scriptures tell his story.

With this result: “They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?'” (v. 32).

“Burning within us” is an ongoing experience in the Greek here, not a single act or feeling. All the time Jesus was teaching the Scriptures to them, their hearts were aflame. Jesus had only to speak through his word, and their lives were forever changed.

So it has been from then to now. St. Augustine, the greatest theologian after Paul in Christian history, was converted when he picked up the Bible and read its truth. Martin Luther was converted to personal faith in Christ through his study of Scripture. John Wesley began the Methodist church after attending a prayer meeting where he said his “heart was strangely warmed” by Jesus through his word. Dr. Bill Tolar, long-time academic dean at Southwestern Seminary, came to Christ by reading the Bible. Jesus can still speak to our hearts through the word of God.

This week I have been applying this message to my own life. As I have opened the Scriptures each morning, I have asked Jesus to teach me as he taught these two on the way to Emmaus, and he has. I have sensed a new life, a new fire, a new power in God’s word as Jesus has spoken it to me.

What he is doing more and more in my heart, he wants to do in every heart. He wants you to say today, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us … and opened the Scriptures to us?” And tomorrow as well.

How can we hear Jesus today?

So, how can we experience what these two did? How can this place of worship be our Emmaus road? Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He is just as able to speak to us by his Spirit in his word as he was then. So, what must we do to hear him?

First, believe that the Bible is the word of God.

Jesus was clear in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets: I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus had a deep appreciation for the Scriptures as the word of God.

So should we. The Bible is the best-attested ancient book in the world. Manuscript evidence, archaeological data, fulfilled prophecy and internal consistency all document its absolutely trustworthy nature. The Bible is what it says it is: “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). This is the word of God.

I believe that every word of the Bible is the word of God. This book does not merely contain the word of God—it is the word of God. I used to tell my seminary students that this book is the only word God is obligated to bless. My words are not God’s word—Scripture is.

I don’t use the word “inerrancy,” so common to Baptist denominational battles, because the word is not found in the Bible. Additionally, the word “inerrancy” has eight different definitions and twelve qualifications. I don’t know what it means, so I don’t use it. But I believe that every word of the Bible is the absolute, authoritative word of God.

This is why traditional Baptists have no creeds, no man-made statements of faith you must accept. We believe the Bible, so we have no creed but Scripture. This is one of the problems our church has with the newest edition of the Baptist Faith and Message. This statement of Baptist beliefs now calls itself “essential for faith and practice” and an “instrument of doctrinal accountability.” Baptists have never believed this. We have no creed but the Bible. We are people of the Book. We believe that the Bible is the word of God.

This is the first, essential commitment to make if you want Jesus to speak to you from his word—believe in that word.

Second, we interpret the Bible according to the life and teachings of Jesus.

Jesus showed them that the Bible is fulfilled in himself. Here, as throughout his ministry, he told them what the text means. In his Sermon on the Mount, again and again he said, “You have heard it said, but I say unto you….” Jesus, the living Word of God, taught us how to understand the word of God.

Baptists have historically believed that this is the way to understand Scripture: ask first what Jesus said and did. “WWJD” applies here. All the way back to the Anabaptists, we have believed in the Christological principle of biblical hermeneutics: interpret the Bible according to the teachings of Jesus. He is the “criterion,” the means of interpreting the Bible. This is what traditional Baptists believe.

Third, we interpret according to the intention of the authors.

It was the ultimate intent of the Law and the Prophets to prepare the way for the Messiah. Jesus “opened the Scriptures” to them (v. 32) and taught them according to the clear intention of those who first authored the text under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

To know this intended meaning, ask these questions. One: what is the background of this book? Who is the author? Who are the readers? What is the situation being addressed? Two: what do the words and sentences mean? Three: what historical data can help us understand the text? Four: what theological truths are being revealed? And five: what practical application should I make today? (There is much more on this method of Bible study in the brochures available at the door today.)

Last, obey what you learn.

Someone bragged to a rabbi, “I’ve been through the Law four times.” The rabbi replied, “The question is not whether you’ve been through the Law, but whether the Law has been through you.”

Oswald Chambers, the spiritual genius and devotional writer, once said, “The only part of the Bible we understand is the part we obey.”

Every time Jesus speaks to you through his word, he will give you something to do. These two disciples had to run back to Jerusalem, over seven dangerous miles at night, because the word of God had just shown them that Jesus is the risen Lord. And they had to tell the world. They had to obey what they had learned. So do we.


Let me ask you: do you have a daily appointment to meet with Jesus in his word? Wherever you are can be your road to Emmaus. What Jesus did for them, he will do for you. This church believes that the Bible is the word of God. We do not believe in creeds, but in Christ. We do not ask a creed to interpret the Bible, but Christ.

Believe that the Bible is God’s word. Interpret it according to the life and teachings of Jesus, with his help. Seek the intended meaning, and apply what you learn. And your heart will burn with in you as he talks with you on the way.

Dr. John Newport was the academic vice-president and provost, emeritus at Southwestern Seminary until his recent death, and my theological mentor. At his funeral I saw many friends from years ago at the seminary. One was Isaac Mwase, now associate professor of philosophy of religion at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas.

Isaac was a student of mine. His story is remarkable. Ten years before I knew him, Isaac had been a Muslim terrorist, plotting the overthrow of the government in what was then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). His friends wanted to make him the dictator of the country.

Then a Christian gave him a Bible. Isaac would not go to a church, or meet a preacher, or listen to a sermon. But in reading the Bible, Jesus spoke to his soul and he was converted. Now he teaches at Ouachita, and one day he will return to Zimbabwe. Not as the dictator of the country, but the president of the seminary.

What Jesus said to him, now Jesus waits to say to us. Are you listening?

What Jesus Doesn’t Know

What Jesus Doesn’t Know

Matthew 24.36-44

Dr. Jim Denison

This morning we begin with life-changing facts: the shortest war in history was fought between Zanzibar and England in 1896; Zanzibar surrendered after 38 minutes. Dueling is legal in Paraguay so long as both parties are registered blood donors. Donald Duck cartoons were banned in Finland because he doesn’t wear pants. If the population of China walked past us today in single file, the line would never end because of the rate of reproduction. A snail can sleep for three years. You share your birthday with at least nine million other people. Women blink nearly twice as much as men. And the electric chair was invented by a dentist.

Sometimes we know more than we want to know. And sometimes we know far less. No topic has generated more debate among Christians of this generation than ours today. Typically the result has been more heat than light.

Today we close our series on the Christ you never knew: eight pictures of the real Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew. We do so with this text, because it makes the other seven pictures of Jesus urgent and vitally significant for your soul and mine. Right now.

Let me show you why.

Get ready to meet God

“No one knows about that day or hour,” our text begins (v. 36). “That day” refers to the return of Jesus Christ, commonly known as the Second Coming. The visible, glorious return of Jesus Christ to this planet. This is the subject of our text and our study today.

About its timing, “No one knows.” Not the angels in heaven. Not even the Son of God. Only the Father himself. It is blasphemy for us to claim knowledge Jesus Christ does not have. Anyone who tells you when Jesus will return is wrong. No one knows.

And so everyone must be ready. Jesus gives us three reasons why this is so.

First, his return will be unexpected. Here our Lord cites the days of Noah (vs. 37-39). The world refused to believe that the Flood would come, until it did. And all who were not ready, perished.

Second, we must each be prepared to meet God. Here Jesus points to two men in the field and two women at work with a hand mill.

Today he’d point to two men in their offices and two women at work, or waiting in the carpool line, or somehow at least as busy as men.

They likely know each other, and are perhaps even father and son, mother and daughter.

But their close relationship is not enough—they must each be ready. One is, and one is not. One is saved and one is lost.

Last, Jesus could come now. Here he warns them of the thief in the night (vs. 43-44).

If the owner of the house knew when the thief was coming, he’d be ready. This is the whole point of our alarm systems today—to tell us and the police when the thief is coming. But he doesn’t know. In precisely the same way, we don’t know when Jesus will return. A thief could be at your home right now. Jesus could be returning right now.

Again and again Scripture makes this plain. For instance: “Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-4).

Remember Jesus’ warning to the church at Sardis in Revelation 3: “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you” (v. 3).

Here’s the summary of our text today: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (v. 42).

“Watch” is imperative, addressed in the second person plural and so to us all. We do not know—this is a categorical statement, with no exceptions. So we must be ready—every one of us. Today.

“The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (2 Peter 3:10).

Jesus’ last words recorded in Scripture are these: “Yes, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20).

Why get ready?

What if it were today? Would you be ready? Why get ready? Why live in preparation, ready each day? Consider these facts.

First, you don’t know when you will meet God. He may come for you, or you may go to him. No knows when that day will come for them. No one.

Pompeii was destroyed by the volcano Vesuvius in A.D. 70 (check date). The entire city was sealed by lava, and preserved. Fascinating finds have been made as a result. A hand clutching a bag of gold. A soldier standing at attention. A man cutting a piece of bread, his dog at his side. They didn’t know. Neither will we.

Abraham Lincoln didn’t know he would meet God on date; or John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963—presidents don’t know. Yitzhak Rabin didn’t know he would meet God on date—prime ministers don’t know. John Lennon didn’t know he would meet God on date—celebrities don’t know. Neither will we.

We must be ready to meet God today, for today is all we have.

A second fact: spiritual procrastination is a temptation of the enemy. Remember the old story about the meeting in hell: how will the demons best tempt mankind? One said, “I’ll tell them there is no heaven,” but the devil knew that wouldn’t work. Another said, “I’ll tell them there is no hell,” but the devil knew we’d not believe it. Then a third said, “I’ll tell them there is no hurry.” And Satan said, “Go.” And he did.

If you’re certain that this message doesn’t apply to you, that you’ve got all the time in the world to prepare to meet God, guess why.

One last fact: the best way to live life is to be right with God, right now.

Even if you don’t die for 40 years, or Jesus doesn’t come for 40 generations, the best way to live this day is to be right with God.

G. Campbell Morgan was a great expositor and a powerful man of God. His secret? He said, “Every morning when I awaken I remind myself that I must be ready to meet God today.” Jonathan Edwards was the greatest theologian America has ever produced, and the preacher of the First Great Awakening. Why? His resolution: I will live every day for Jesus. Billy Graham is considered by many to be the greatest living Christian today. His secret? He lives every day as if it were his last, ready always to meet God.

This is the best way to live every day. Including this day.


So, how do we get ready to meet God today?

First, make certain of your own salvation. Ask Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and take charge of your life. Be sure that you have given your soul to him.

Next, take a spiritual inventory today. Ask the Spirit of God to show you anything wrong between you and your Father. Write it down, specifically. Ask God’s forgiveness, and claim his mercy. Do this often. Our ministry staff did this during our staff retreat this week, with great joy. Do it today.

And take all the time your soul needs. Someone asked the evangelist Gypsy Smith how to bring revival to his church. He said: get a piece of chalk, draw a circle around yourself, and pray until everything inside that circle is right with God. Then revival will come. Get everything inside your circle right with God. Today.

Across our series we’ve learned important facts about Jesus Christ. As he loved Matthew the tax collector, so he loves us all. He defeated the devil, and will defeat him in our lives as well. He heals our hurts, brings God to us, works miracles today, and wants to be our Lord and Master. He defeated death. And he will come again for us all.

Are you ready right now? If this were the end of your life, would your life end well?

The Olympics have the attention of the world, and especially those who win. What of those who finish last? One such athlete deserves our notice.

At the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania finished last. By the time he reached the stadium it was dark, the race long over. Akhwari was bleeding, his right leg bandaged, obviously in great pain. But he dragged his leg around the track and finished the race.

A reporter asked him why. He said, “My country didn’t send me here to start the race. My country sent me here to finish it.”

If this were the last day, will you finish your race well?