Are Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?

Are Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?

Joshua 6:20-21

Dr. Jim Denison

Arguably the most famous sermon in American history was preached at its infancy. On July 8, 1741, at Enfield, Connecticut, Jonathan Edwards delivered the message for which he is best known, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Imagine yourself seated on a wooden pew in that colonial congregation, hearing these words with which Edwards closed:

“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire this very moment….

“O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.”

Is this true? Are sinners in the hands of an angry God? I assume we each admit that we have committed sin. How does God feel about us now?

The simple fact is that some of us fear God’s judgment too little, while others fear it too much. Today let’s learn what to do when we fail ourselves and God.

Why don’t we fear God more?

Ours is no theoretical problem today.

The Bible is very clear: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23); “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Each of us—no exceptions.

When I stole a pack of gum at the age of five, I entered for the first time in my memory into the ranks of sinners. I’m just like you. As a child I melted crayons into the teacher’s hair, locked a girl in a coat closet during lunch, and shook eraser dust into the window air conditioner, thus coating the classroom with it. My mother earned every gray hair she owns.

We laugh at such transgressions, but sin is serious. “The wages of sin is death,” the Bible warns us (Romans 6:23). Seven times the Bible commands us to “fear God.” Yet most people don’t. Why not? Several reasons come to mind.

One: scientific progress has made the power of God irrelevant.

Diseases which used to kill us are now cured by medicine without God’s help. How many parents today pray against polio, or tuberculosis, or bubonic plague?

Technology now controls weather which used to destroy and devastate us. We know hurricanes are coming and have remedies for drought. What only God could do, we think we can do.

And this scientific march has removed much of the mystery from life. The solar eclipse of June 21 didn’t frighten us as it used to ancient peoples. We don’t need to ask the gods to give us back the sun. We don’t need Baal to give us rain, or Zeus to explain lightning, or Neptune to understand the tides.

We think we have progressed beyond needing the power of God.

Two: naïve morality has made the fear of God irrelevant. We think we’re good, moral people, and that we’re all going to heaven.

God is a kindly grandfather who loves us all and will bring us all to heaven when we die. We’re better than the “bad” people—the Hitlers and the McVeighs. We all know someone worse than we are. And so only 2% of Americans are afraid of going to hell. We’re good people, we think.

Three: secular materialism has made the punishment of God irrelevant. We believe in what we can see, and we can’t see God.

We are more afraid that our friends will reject us than that God will judge us. We are more afraid of losing that business contract or that boyfriend or girlfriend than we are of displeasing God. After all, we can always confess our sins to God later and he’ll forgive us. It’s that simple, or so we think.

Why do some people fear God too much?

So many of us fear God too little. But some people fear God too much. They cannot believe that God has actually forgiven their sins, pardoned their failures, cleansed their souls.

A psychologist recently said he could dismiss 90% of his clients if they could heal their guilt over the past or fear about failing in the future. Why is this a problem for so many?

Some of us grew up with a God of anger and wrath, more like Zeus throwing thunderbolts than a Father sending his Son to die for us. We picture God with gigantic scales, hoping to send us to hell for our sins. If your father was judgmental and unloving, you’ll especially tend to see God in the same way.

Some of us practice “Baptist penance.” We’re self-made, and cannot accept grace. We must pay it back. If God won’t punish us, we’ll punish ourselves. We’ll hold onto our guilt, our pain, our failure, until we think we’ve paid our debt.

We see the consequences of our sin and failure, the hurt our sin caused others and ourselves, and assume God has not forgiven it. . We cannot forget it, so we assume God has not, either.

So you and I need to know that guilt is not of God. The Holy Spirit convicts the sin, but does not condemn the sinner. Guilt comes from our enemy or from ourselves. But for many of us, it’s very real today. And we fear God’s wrath even more than we should.

Why does God punish our sins?

Wouldn’t things be easier if God didn’t punish sin? Or if he didn’t permit it? But neither is the case. We know that God does in fact judge and punish sin.

1 Corinthians 3 warns us of a final judgment before God, where he will examine our works and our lives. All that is wrong and sinful will be “burned up” and we will suffer loss (v. 15). He judges and punishes sin.

He did so in our text. When the inhabitants of ancient Jericho refused God’s plan for their city and future, their city and future were destroyed.

Archaeologists have long been interested in this ancient city, and think they have identified the layer of remains which belong to those of Joshua’s day. The stones of this wall were not pulled down, as was the custom in ancient warfare, where soldiers tied ropes to the tops of the walls and pulled them over. Instead, these walls are collapsed onto themselves, exactly as the text says they were.

Why did God destroy their walls and their city? If he is all powerful, why does he permit our sins? If he is all loving, why does he punish them?

Because God is grace, sin must be permitted. His love is his grace gift to us, and a gift must be received freely. He will never force his will and purpose upon us. He made us to worship him, and worship requires freedom. And so he must allow us to misuse our free will in sin, because he wants us to use it in salvation. God must permit sin, if he is grace.

Because God is holy, sin must be punished. How else could he be a righteous and just God?

We understand this, except when the sin is ours. We want the Hitlers of human history to pay for their crimes. When someone roars past us on the freeway we lament, “Where is a policeman when you need one?” But when we are the ones speeding and we get caught, we get angry.

God must punish sin if he is holy.

Because God is love, sin must be purified. Since God loves us, he will do whatever he must to keep us from continuing in sin. The doctor who cut the cancer from my mother years ago did not hurt her—he saved her. God is the best parent you know. He will punish his children’s sin so that they will not continue it. God must purify our sin if he is love.

So God must permit, punish, and purify our sins. He does this in many ways.

He permits the consequences of our sins. You can drive a nail into wood and then pull out the nail, but the hole remains. I know people who will live the rest of their lives with the consequences of sins God has forgiven—criminal records, broken marriages, divorced parents, sexually transmitted diseases, lost virginity, broken bodies. God did not cause these consequences, but he permits them. Yes, you can sin and receive the forgiveness of God, but the consequences of your sin will be devastating and they will remain.

He directly punishes our sins. In Scripture God sometimes sends disease, or pestilence, or enemies to punish sin and rehabilitate sinners. He can still do this today.

He refuses to reward our sins. When we stand before Christ in judgment we will receive eternal rewards for our obedience to his word and will. And we will suffer a loss of reward for all eternity wherever we have refused his word and will. God cannot and will not reward our sins.

He allows us the eternal result of our sins. If a person chooses to reject his love and mercy, God must allow him the result of that choice. As Calvin Miller puts it in one of his books, a man asks God: “Could you be loving and merciful and send me to hell?” God replies, “I could never send you to hell. But if you choose to go there, I could never lock you out.”

What do we do with sin?

So what do we do with sin now?

First, refuse it. Listen to Proverbs 4:14-15: “Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way.” Hear once again this fact: sin will always take you further than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you wanted to pay. Always.

When you do sin, admit it and turn from it. Repent immediately, before the cancer spreads.

And when you repent, claim the forgiveness of God.

Psalm 103:3 promises that God “forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” God will separate your sins from you as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12); he will bury them in the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) and he will remember them no more (Isaiah 43:25). The next time you confess a sin you’ve already confessed, God won’t know what you’re talking about.

Receive his grace, and know that you have received it.

The poet was right:

Lord,There are countless things in my lifeThat are inexcusable.There are things unaccountableAnd things unexplainable.There are things irrefutableAnd things irresponsible.But it comes to me with unutterable reliefThat because of your amazing loveNothing in my life is unforgivable.


Karl Barth was the greatest writing theologian of the twentieth century. His Church Dogmatics occupy 14 volumes on my study shelf. After writing more than 7,000 pages, he comes to this definition of God: “The One who loves.” He’s right.

He will punish our sins through consequences, direct action, and eternal judgment. He does this because he is grace, he is holy, and most of all, because he is love. Now, would you turn to this love? Would you accept this grace? Would you experience this holiness? You can right now, if you will.

My favorite John Claypool story concerns a medieval village and the monastery high above it on a mountain. The humble villagers often wondered what the monks did up in their elevated holy world. Then one day a monk came down into the village for supplies.

One of the peasants ran, fell before him, and asked, “O holy father, what do you and the others do up there so close to God?”

The monk pulled the peasant to his feet, took his hands, smiled into his face and said, “We fall down and we get up. We fall down and we get up. We fall down and we get up.”

Would you like to get up today?

How Did “Sons of God” Marry “Daughters of Men”?

How Did “Sons of God” Marry “Daughters of Men”?

Genesis 6:1-8

Dr. Jim Denison

Mark Twain was a man of sage and incisive wisdom.

For instance, he counseled parents of teenagers, “When your child reaches thirteen, put him in a barrel and feed him through the hole. When he turns sixteen, plug the hole.”

He advised us, “Do good when you can, and charge when you think they will stand it.”

He was right to observe: “Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.

And his take on Scripture was equally wry: “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand which bother me—it’s the parts I do understand.”

Today I want to build a bridge from the former to the latter—from a part of the Bible which is very confusing to a part which is very clear. We’ll tackle one of the most perplexing texts in Scripture, and see that it is actually one of the most urgent, practical, and relevant passages in God’s word.

Our text applies to every human being on the planet, and in this worship service. My job today is simply to show you how it’s so.

From confusion . . .

Our Scripture today begins with one of the most confusing sentences in all the Bible: “When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose” (vs. 1-2).

I have never heard a sermon on this text—have you? I’ve never preached one, either. In fact, I’ve never studied this passage in any detail before this week. So I started as you do, wondering what on earth is going on here.

I’ve discovered several options as suggested by scholars.

Some say that these “sons of God” are angels, since Job 1:6 and Psalm 29:1 uses this title for them. But Jesus tells us that angels “neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Mark 12:25).

Some say these are kings, as people in the ancient Near East often associated their royal figures with divinity. But the Bible never does.

An interesting approach suggests that the “sons of God” are descendants of Seth, the godly child of Adam and Eve, and the “daughters of men” are descendants of the evil Cain. In this view, what is happening here is intermarriage across tribal and spiritual lines. But the author of Genesis could easily have made this clear, and didn’t.

I think the clues we need are found in the text immediately surrounding our passage. Scripture intends to be clear, and was very clear to its original audience. So we must ask ourselves, what did they understand these words to mean?

Genesis 2:7 says, “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

Later God made woman from man’s rib, and he says of her, “She shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” (2:23).

So calling men the “sons of God” and women the “daughters of men” was simply repeating what the readers of Genesis already knew, and what the rest of the Bible teaches as well. I found nine places where the Bible refers to men as “sons of God” (cf. Deuteronomy 14:1, 32:5, Psalm 73:15, Isaiah 43:6-7, Hosea 1:10, 11:1, Luke 3:38, 1 John 3:1-2, 10). The text here seems simply to refer to men and women.

And nothing in these verses ties these “sons of God and daughters of men” specifically to the flood which follows. They are simply populating the earth as God had commanded them to (1:28).

Now we come to another confusing reference: “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown” (v. 4).

Their name means “to fall.” Some see them as evil figures and interpret their name as “fallen ones.” Others see them as heroic warriors and see their name as “falling on” others in strength and victory.

They are among the children produced by the “sons of God and daughters of men,” but nothing in the text ties them specifically to the coming Flood, either.

They are simply figures in history, of importance to the readers of Genesis but only interesting to us.

So we have “sons of God and daughters of men,” probably men and women who are marrying and having children. Among them are mighty warriors and heroes in the ancient Near East. And you’re wondering how any of this could be as urgent, practical, and relevant as I promised this passage would be, how it could apply to every human being on the planet and in this service.

Let’s read on.

… to clarity …

As our text proceeds, we move quickly from confusion to clarity, from ancient history to life experience today. Verse 5 comes home: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”

God reads our minds and knows our thoughts. He knows how sinful they can be. He knows that we don’t put our thoughts into action because of legal restraints and fear of being caught. But he knows what we would do if we could.

Think about your thoughts for a moment, and you’ll see what God sees every moment of every day.

Such sin “grieves” the Lord and fills his heart with pain (v. 6).

He is holy and cannot countenance or condone our sin. He must bring it to judgment, as he did with the Flood.

We’ll explore his justice and judgment much more fully in the message two weeks from today. For this morning, see how God sees our sins and is grieved by them.

But now the good news dawns on the black horizon: “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 8).

He “found” it—he didn’t earn it. He found “favor”—the Hebrew word means “to bend or stoop,” and describes the condescending and unmerited favor of a superior for an inferior. This is the Old Testament’s primary word for grace, and it is first found here in all of the Scriptures.

I remember the story of a cave-in in New Mexico. As the story goes, a group was exploring a series of underground caves when the roof collapsed, trapping them. All but one began digging at the walls, pulling at the rocks, doing all they could to escape. That one happened to notice a pin-prick of light in the distance, and climbed to it. He found it to be an opening, a way out. He returned to the others with his news, but they wouldn’t listen to him. They kept digging at the walls, and died. He went to the opening and was saved. He wasn’t any better than the others—he simply “found” the grace available to them all.

Through Noah, God extended this favor to the rest of mankind.

He warned this sinful humanity that their days “will be a hundred and twenty years” (v. 3). Then would come his judgment and justice.

He called Noah to build the Ark which would preserve life on earth. 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, 45 feet high, with a displacement of 14,000 tons and a carrying capacity of 522 standard railroad cars. Room for 45,000 animals from 17,600 species.

Noah spent 100 years building this Ark. What was he doing during this time? 2 Peter 5:2 tells us: he was a “preacher of righteousness.” For one hundred years Noah preached to the people, warning them of the judgment to come, imploring them to repent and turn to God, inviting them to join him on the Ark and in salvation.

Finally, God had to send his Flood, after mankind refused his grace and salvation. Only after he had given them every chance to be saved.

Now, why does this passage and event apply so completely to us? Because what God did through Noah and the Flood, he is doing today through his word and Jesus’ return to our planet.

2 Peter 3 is the New Testament’s commentary on this Old Testament text. Here Peter reminds his readers of the Flood, how “the world of that time was deluged and destroyed” (v. 6).

Then he warns us: “By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (v. 7).

Why hasn’t that day of judgment come already? Peter has our answer: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (v. 9).

But one day in the future, “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” (v. 10). Everything, including you and me.


Now you and I are in this story. We are the “sons of God and daughters of men.” Our hearts are inclined to evil, just as theirs were. Now we must respond to God. How? Know these facts.

One: God’s grace can transform your life.

Lee Atwater was the most notorious political figure of the 1980’s. As chairman of the Republican National Committee, he did and would do anything in his power to elect his candidates to office. He was feared by his side and hated by his opponents. But when he came to faith in Christ, everything changed. Shortly after his conversion he discovered he had terminal brain cancer. He spent his last months apologizing to his opponents, mending relationships with his friends, and witnessing to his faith. God’s grace transformed his life.

Manuel Noriega was “public enemy number one” during the time leading up to the U.S. invasion of Panama in December of 1989. Jailed on drug and money laundering charges, he was visited in his Miami prison cell by evangelists Clift Brannon and Rudy Hernandez. On January 16, 1990, at 11 o’clock in the morning, he made Christ his Lord. He has since written to former political and criminal associates, inviting them to receive Jesus as well. God’s grace transformed his life.

In the early 1970s, Charles W. Colson was known as the White House “hatchet man.” This aide to President Nixon was “incapable of humanitarian thought,” according to the media of the day. When he came to Christ in 1973, the Boston Globe reported, “If Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everybody.” He later founded Prison Fellowship Ministries, the world’s largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, crime victims, and their families. God’s grace transformed his life.

It can yours and mine as well.

Two: You must receive this gift. Every gift must be opened.

Ask Jesus to forgive your sins and mistakes, and ask him to take charge of your life.

If you have, spend time in spiritual inventory. Ask the Spirit to show you anything in your heart which is wrong toward God. Write it down. Confess it specifically to God. Ask his forgiveness and cleansing.

Make yourself ready to stand before God.

Last: you are guaranteed only this day. God has given you one more day.

John F. Kennedy didn’t know when he left his airplane in Dallas on November 22, 1963 to travel to a lunch meeting at Market Hall on Stemmons, that this would be his last day. If a president doesn’t know, do we?

Payne Stewart didn’t know as he boarded a Learjet bound for Dallas from Orlando on October 25, 1999, that this would be his last day. If a millionaire sports hero doesn’t know, do we?

God has given you one more day. This day.

What will you do with yours?

Where Did Cain Get His Wife?

Where Did Cain Get His Wife?

Genesis 4:17-18

Dr. Jim Denison

Today we begin our summer preaching series, titled “Hard Questions in the Bible.” We’ll begin at Genesis and go through God’s word, asking such questions as What does God think of the Jews?, Did Jesus go to Hell?, and What is the unpardonable sin? We begin today with the issue of creation and evolution and the question, Where did Cain get his wife?

What do we know about God’s creation? And how does that knowledge apply to our lives, and to the country whose birthday we celebrate this week?

Thank God for you

The Bible starts at the start: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). So we learn that God existed before existence came to be. He made everything else that is. This is the bold and consistent claim of his word.

How did he do it?

Let’s get before us immediately the fact that Genesis does not intend to be a science book. In fact, science as a discipline is a recent invention; 90% of all the scientists who have ever lived are alive right now. Genesis is not speculative but practical. It does not tell us all we want to know about the world, but all we need to know about our place in it.

So Genesis says that God made the universe in six “days.” The word “day” translates “yom,” a Hebrew term for a defined period of time, not necessary a 24-hour day marked by sunrise and sunset. In fact, God didn’t create the sun and the moon until the fourth “day.” Some of the ancient rabbis thought Genesis meant that God did this in six days, others in six creative acts of undetermined time in between, still others in six “eons” or “ages.” We don’t know, because we don’t need to know.

When did he do it? Genesis doesn’t say, because the answer has no practical consequence in our lives. Some add up the biblical genealogies and say that God made the world in the year 4004 B.C., regardless of the evidence of geology and astrophysics. Others say the universe is billions of years old. Would it change your life to know? That’s why Genesis doesn’t say.

Did he use evolution to do it? Let’s define some terms.

Charles Darwin’s principles of evolution are really very simple: creatures procreate more offspring than can survive; the offspring possess enormous variety; there is a struggle for existence due to overpopulation; because of their variety, some of the offspring are more fit for survival than others; these capacities for survival become naturally selected and inherited.

As an example, a hundred years ago there were small-winged moths and large-winged moths in England. The small-winged moths couldn’t fly above the pollution generated by the factories of the day, and so died out. The large-winged moths could, and survived. Today there are only large-winged moths in England.

This is an example of what’s known as “microevolution”—adaptation within a biological set, genus, or species. People are taller and less hairy than they used to be. Horses are larger; most dogs are smaller. Nothing in the Bible teaches that God didn’t make the world so that it would adapt to its changing environment.

The difficulty arises when Darwin’s principles are applied across biblical categories—from apes to men, from fish to birds, and so on. This is called “macroevolution.” And it leads to problems, both with evidence and with Scripture.

The fossil record indicates no so-called “missing links” from one biblical category to another. The old Neanderthal Man, Piltdown Man, and so on are no longer representative of the best theories. Darwin said the fossil record would have to demonstrate increasingly simple organisms as we move backward in time, but it does not.

The paleontological record shows us adaptation within biblical categories, but not across them. Advocates for macroevolution now posit “spontaneous mutatory jumps” across the biblical categories, but without empirical evidence for their assumptions.

Such a theory is, of course, contrary to the clear record of Genesis. These chapters are not written as myths or legends or symbols, but as straight-forward narrative.

So it is clear that both macroevolution and biblical creationism are built on faith principles. I believe that both God’s revealed word and the best empirical research confirm the fact that God created us. And I rejoice in this fact.

Know this: you are here on purpose. You are not an accident, or the coincidence of random chaos. God made you, intentionally, for a reason.

Your body consists of 206 bones, wrapped with 650 muscles and seven miles of nerve fibers. Your eyes possess 100 million receptors, and your ears 24,000 fibers. Your heart beats 36,000,000 times every year and sends blood pumping through more than 60,000 miles of veins, arteries, and tubing.

Your brain contains 13,000,000,000 nerve cells. Picture the possible number of interconnections in your brain this way: the number of atoms in the universe is 1 followed by 100 zeroes. The number of different patterns possible in your brain is 1 followed by over 800 zeros. And your unconscious brain database, that which your unconscious brain knows and stores, outweighs your conscious brain on an order exceeding 10 million to one.

I liked what one brain and mind expert said: “If the human brain were simple enough to understand, we would be too simple to understand it.” But God does. And he made yours.

Thank God for your country

So rejoice today that God made you. And that he made everything else as well.

The first law of thermodynamics states that matter and energy can be neither created nor destroyed. Except by God, we add.

So glance at the matter and energy God has made. The Wall Street Journal recently carried an article describing the complexity of this universe. Picture a wall with hundreds of dials, it said. Each must be at exactly the right setting for carbon-based life to emerge in a suburb of the Milky Way. If the cosmic expansion of the universe had first been a fraction less, for instance, it would have imploded billions of years ago; a fraction more intense, and galaxies would not have formed. The odds of our universe’s existence and design occurring by random chance would not be accepted by any gambler, anywhere on earth.

And what an amazing world God has made. Picture a comet for a moment. Its vapor trail can be more than 10,000 miles long. But capture and bottle that “tail,” and you discover that the amount of vapor actually present in your bottle is less than one cubic inch of space.

Yet many see such phenomenal design without looking for its Designer.

Robert Ingersoll was a famous atheist. He once visited the great preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, who took him into his study. There Mr. Ingersoll noticed a magnificent contour globe of the world, with mountains and valleys painted with remarkable detail and beauty. He said, “Pastor Beecher, that is a beautiful work of art. Who made it for you?”

Knowing Ingersoll’s denial of God’s creation, Dr. Beecher replied, “Oh, nobody, it just happened.”

No, it didn’t. Your world didn’t just happen. You didn’t just happen. And your nation didn’t just happen.

Our nation’s birth is the result of the greatest sacrifices, the highest courage, the most passionate commitment to freedom and liberty. Thomas Paine captured the spirit best. This soldier in Washington’s army wrote a pamphlet to tell Americans what they needed to know about their army and their times.

Here are some of his words: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his Country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.”

On December 25, 1776, as General Washington was preparing for one of the most decisive attacks of the entire war, he had Mr. Paine’s article read to all his troops. Most of his troops were half clothed and barefooted, charging in the worst possible weather, but they won. Over the next few months more than 100,000 copies of Mr. Paine’s words were printed and distributed across the infant nation. God used them to inspire our forefathers to greatness.

And miraculous events accompanied their courage. The unexpected and dense fog in August of 1776 which covered Washington’s retreat from annihilation on Long Island; the sudden freeze on January 3, 1777 which allowed Washington’s troops to travel to safety across otherwise muddy and impassable roads; the British riflemen who had Washington in their sights on September 10, 1777, but didn’t know who he was and didn’t fire; the storm of October 16, 1781 which prevented Cornwallis from retreating at Yorktown and effectively ended the War.

So we thank God this week for the courage he gave to men and women willing to fight vastly superior forces and sacrifice their lives for our nation. We thank him for the victory he gave to their armies. We thank him for the wisdom and insight he gave to their leaders.

And we pray for our country to worship its creator.

Only 36% of Americans say they have accepted Christ as their personal Savior. Some 173 million Americans are spiritually lost, 100,000 of whom live within three miles of this Sanctuary.

And so we pray for our country to come to Christ. The greatest way we can serve America is to pray for Americans.


Our title asks, Where did Cain get his wife? The author of Genesis would answer, what difference does it make? Let Genesis be what it is intended to be: not a scientific textbook but God’s revelation of his creative power and design in our world and our lives.

Perhaps God made other people, and Cain married one of them. Perhaps Cain married his sister, a necessity if no other women existed. How exactly did it happen? How long ago did God make the world? In how many “days?” By what method?

Here’s the answer: God made you. God made your world. God made your nation. And God wants us, and our country, to trust in him and to worship him today.

Will you trust God today with your greatest problem, whatever it might be? Will you give that issue in your life to your Creator?

Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse was right: God is as big as your faith. He is as big as your faith will allow him to be. How big will you let your Creator be in your life today? Will you give to him the specific problem for which you need his help the most?

And will you worship your Creator with every day you live?

President Theodore Roosevelt and his good friend, the naturalist William Beebe, would on occasion stay at Roosevelt’s family home. They would go out on its lawn at night. They would search the skies until they found the faint spot of light behind the lower left-hand corner of the Great Square of Pegasus. Then they would remember together the words:

That is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda.It is as large as our Milky Way.It is one of a hundred million galaxies.It consists of one hundred billion suns,Each larger than our sun.

Then President Roosevelt would grin at Mr. Beebe and say, “Now I think we are small enough. Let’s go to bed.”

Are we small enough to go to God?

Why Did Abraham Sacrifice Isaac?

Why Did Abraham Sacrifice Isaac?

Genesis 22:1-19

Dr. Jim Denison

The current issue of Fortune magazine carries this cover story: “God and business: the surprising quest for spiritual renewal in the American workplace.”

In the article, Andre DelBecq, a management professor, says, “There were two things I thought I’d never see in my life, the fall of the Russian empire and God being spoken about at a business school.” It’s about time.

David Miller, former IBM executive and investment banker who now leads a faith-in-the-workplace group called Avodah (Hebrew for “work” and “worship”) Institute: “People often talk about the sacred-secular divide, but my faith tells me that God is found in earth and rocks and buildings and institutions, and, yes, in the business world.” He’s right.

The Princeton Religious Research Index reports a sharp increase in religious beliefs and practices since the 1990s. When the Gallup Poll asked Americans in 1999 if they felt a need to experience spiritual growth, 78% said yes, up from 20% in 1994, and nearly half said they’d had occasion to talk about their faith in the workplace in the past 24 hours.

Laura Nash, a senior research fellow at Harvard Business School, says, “Spirituality in the workplace is exploding.”

Soul and body, God and daily life are finally coming together for many people in our culture. We all need that intersection to happen for us every day. So I want to answer two questions today: why? and how?

Why trust God with your life?

This week I read James Maas’s book, Power Sleep. His research proves that at least 50 percent of America’s adult population is chronically sleep-deprived. An even greater percentage report trouble sleeping on any given night. And the number who report trouble sleeping has risen 33 percent in the last five years.

Why? Why are we so stressed and anxious?

We’re working more hours than ever before in our history. The technological revolution was supposed to free our time; instead it keeps us working all the time. Cell phones, pagers, and e-mail find us wherever we are in the world. It’s as though we never left the office, because we don’t. If we can just do more, we can have more and we can be more. Or so we think.

As a result, we’re achieving financial success on an unprecedented scale, but we’re discovering that it’s not enough. As one executive in the Fortune article said, “We get to the top of the ladder and find that maybe it’s leaning against the wrong building.”

For many of us, it is.

The problem started a long time ago.

Six centuries before Christ, a poet named Orpheus began teaching ancient Greece that our souls existed separate from our bodies, and were put into them as punishment for crimes they committed in the spiritual world. The point to life, he said, was to get our good souls out of our bad bodies. Keep the spiritual from the secular.

Orpheus influenced Pythagoras, who influenced Plato, who influenced Augustine, who influenced Martin Luther and his Reformation, who influences us today. And so the Western world, from ancient Greece to modern America, has bought into this division of soul and body, spirit and life, for 26 centuries.

In our culture the “spiritual” and the “secular” are segmented. God is for Sunday, but not for Monday. Souls are for saving, but not for living. We are not to talk about our religion in public, or let it affect our public lives. The two are separate.

So while we achieve success financially, vocationally, socially, academically, it’s enough spiritually that we are periodically religious. We trust God to save our souls, while we take care of everything else.

But we can’t. God didn’t make things this way. He created the heavens and the earth, he made our planet, and he is the only one who knows how we are to live on it. When we separate our work and lives from God, we pull the plug on the only power which enables us to live and work with joy, courage, and peace. Life won’t work this way.

And it doesn’t have to. George Gallup recently conducted a poll with results he calls “among the most exciting and significant that we have recorded in more than a half-century of polling.” I’d like to know what has Mr. Gallup so excited.

Here it is. He has discovered a sliver of the American population which he calls “highly spiritually committed.” People who let God run their lives, not just their religion. People who live for God all week, not just on Sunday. People who belong unconditionally to God.

What has he learned about them? “While representing only 13% of the populace, these persons are a ‘breed apart’ from the rest of society. We find that these people, who have what might be described as a ‘transforming faith,’ are more tolerant of others, more inclined to perform charitable acts, more concerned about the betterment of society, and far happier” (emphasis mine).

God is going to ask you to join their ranks today. Here’s how.

How to trust God with your life

Our text opens with a very confusing statement: “Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied” (v. 1).

You need to know that the word “test” here does not mean to tempt to do wrong, but to test so that we can do right. The Hebrew word nawsaw means to test and prove something, to show that it is so. God is going to give Abraham a faith test. And he will pass it with flying colors.

Here it is: “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about” (v. 2).

Abraham had waited 25 years for this son. When he was born God had promised his father, “it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned” (Genesis 21:12). And now God tells this elderly man, more than 110 years old, to sacrifice him to God.

“Go the region of Moriah,” to Mt. Moriah. This is the most significant single mountain in the world today. Where Abraham offered Isaac, David later offered sacrifice to God on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (2 Samuel 24:17-19). And so Solomon, David’s son, built his Temple here and made this rock at the top of this mountain his Holy of Holies (2 Chronicles 3:1).

Today this rock is enshrined in the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim structure completed in AD 691. It is the holiest spot on earth to the Jews, and third holiest to the Muslims. They both want it. And the Middle East conflict which rages today all comes down to it.

But long before all of that, a conflict raged here in the heart of an old man. He is to “sacrifice” his son here, to slit his throat and burn his body. To give up his beloved child, his heir and legacy and future, everything that matters to him. To give it all to God.

And he does. He and Isaac get up early the next morning and travel by foot more than 40 miles over three days. He climbs up this mountain with him, and lays his bound son on this altar, knife high in the air. How can he do it?

Because he trusts God. Not just with his religion, but with his life. Not just with what he can spare, but with his best. He knows that whatever he gives to God, God will bless. He trusts God.

Hebrews 11:19 says, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” He knew that if God wanted him to sacrifice this son, God could raise him back to life. God could still keep his promises and make him his heir. God could do whatever God wants to do.

You see it in his promise to his servants: “We will worship and then we will come back to you” (v. 5). And they did.

You see it in his promise to Isaac: “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (v. 8). And he did, giving Abraham the ram which replaced his son on the altar of worship.

Abraham trusts God with his best, and God does more with it than Abraham ever could.

He makes this one child the father of the Hebrew people. Through his descendants God brings his own Son, who dies on his own sacrificial wood as our sin offering to God.

And now because of what God did through Isaac, Abraham’s seed, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28-29). Through Abraham’s child we are all God’s children. All because he gave his best to God, and God blessed it and is using it still today.

So, how do we join those people Gallup called “highly spiritually committed?” How do we get beyond the spiritual-secular chasm in our culture, and find God’s power and God’s purpose in all we do? How do we live at peace in this hectic, high stress, burned out, sleep-deprived society?

We do what Abraham did. We let God run our lives—every part of them. We put our families on his altar, ask him how to love them and raise them and help them, and do what he says. We put our friends on his altar, and our finances on his altar, and our futures on his altar. We put our best abilities and our worst failures on his altar. We put ourselves where Abraham put his son. We give our lives to God.

Romans 12 is the New Testament commentary on our text. Hear these familiar words in a new way, through Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message: “Here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (emphasis mine). “Take your everyday, ordinary life—and place it before God as an offering.” Do it today.


Put Isaac on the altar today.

Eric Liddell did. The Scotsman who won the gold medal in the 1924 Olympic Games turned his back on fame and fortune to serve God as a missionary in China. He died in a prison camp there, but the Oscar-winning movie Chariots of Fire told his story to the world. He put Isaac on the altar, and God is using him still.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer did. This German genius was safe teaching theology in New York when he returned to Nazi Germany to fight Hitler and serve God with his life. He was hanged on April 8, 1945, but his theology and his witness are more powerful today than when he was alive on this earth. He put Isaac on the altar, and God is using him still.

Benny Newton did. Latino trucker Fidel Lopez was being beaten by the crowd during the Los Angeles riots of 1992 when Rev. Newton saw the uprising on television and ran to break things up. He threw his body over Lopez’s and yelled to his fellow black neighbors, “If you kill him, you’ll have to kill me, too!” He had a small ministry in the inner city, and died of leukemia the next year. But his story has been told all over the country since. He put Isaac on the altar, and God is using him still.

God will bless anything you let him bless. He will use anything you let him use.

Have you kept him out of your work, or your family, or your friends, or your finances, or your future? Or is Isaac on your altar? Have you surrendered every part of your life to God’s will? Can he send you anywhere? Can he use you in any way?

God doesn’t want Sunday, but all week. Not just what you gave him financially today, but what you kept. Not just your church, but your business, your friends, your life. He wants it all.

This week, before I could preach this message to you I had to hear it myself. I had to say to God, “I don’t care what people think, but only what you think. I belong only and fully to you.” Will you join me? God wants your Isaac, your best, your all. I call you to give it to him.

Last Tuesday afternoon I had the great privilege of preaching as part of E. K. Bailey’s annual conference on expository preaching. Preachers come from all over the world to this event. And I’ll tell you, if you can’t preach to 700 black preachers, you can’t preach.

That very day, God moved me to close the message by quoting a statement of faith which is dear to my heart. It was written by a young pastor in Zambabwe who was later martyred for his faith. You’ve heard it before. Hear it again. And make it your own:

“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 is 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, ponder 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.”

Are yours?